A Sustainable Home Near Sydney Boasts Chicken Coops, Vertical Gardens, and More

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By Elana Castle
A new home in Australia raises the question: Is it possible to produce much of your own food and energy while living near the heart of the city?

"Homeowners often quit at the first sign of complexity or budget escalation when building a self-sustaining home," says Clinton Cole, principal of CplusC Architectural Workshop, a design-build firm based in Sydney, Australia. But Geoff Carroll and Julie Young are different. To them, growing vegetables or tracking daily energy consumption aren’t chores to be outsourced. They’re part of living an environmentally responsible lifestyle. Both have senior positions at an Australian data analytics software company that helps clients confront the challenges of hyper-urbanization and climate change. With Cole as their architect, they wanted to create a home that reflects their work in sustainability. 

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The gate leading to Geoff Carroll and Julie Young’s rebuilt terrace house in an inner suburb of Sydney, Australia, holds an array of succulents, signaling what lies within: a greenery-filled home that includes a central courtyard, vertical gardens, aquaponics and rain filter systems, and even a chicken coop. Architect Clinton Cole of CplusC Architectural Workshop led a team of collaborators in revamping the property.

The gate leading to Geoff Carroll and Julie Young’s rebuilt terrace house in an inner suburb of Sydney, Australia, holds an array of succulents, signaling what lies within: a greenery-filled home that includes a central courtyard, vertical gardens, aquaponics and rain filter systems, and even a chicken coop. Architect Clinton Cole of CplusC Architectural Workshop led a team of collaborators in revamping the property.

But their building, a 1980s terrace house in the inner suburb of Alexandria, suffered from poor thermal performance and a distinct lack of outdoor space. Cole’s first recommendation to Geoff and Julie was to tear it down and start fresh. Once demolition was done, he suggested a few critical ideas, including reducing the number of bedrooms from four to two, carving out an internal courtyard, putting the staircase at the front of the building rather than in its former location at the back, and converting the carport at the rear of the property into a permaculture garden.

A counterweight pulley system makes easy work of lifting the large glazed walls flanking the courtyard.

A counterweight pulley system makes easy work of lifting the large glazed walls flanking the courtyard.

The new green spaces serve both aesthetic and practical purposes. The garden at the base of the half-cylinder glass and timber-battened staircase introduces plants into the warm tones of the interior. Likewise, says Cole, "The insertion of the courtyard meant we could pull apart the solid mass of the traditional terrace house, so that light and air are able to circulate."

In the kitchen, an island on casters hides a trio of tables that can be configured in multiple ways both indoors and out. 

In the kitchen, an island on casters hides a trio of tables that can be configured in multiple ways both indoors and out. 

The courtyard’s full-height, vertically retractable doors operate via a rack-and-pinion crank that is designed to support more than 1,000 pounds with the assistance of a dangling concrete counterweight. A rain chain passing through the concrete weight channels rainfall into an underground tank, where it is stored for use in the laundry, toilet, and garden.

A cylindrical glass staircase with Western red cedar and painted steel mullions dominates the front of the house. The stair treads, along with the floor, are made of recycled spotted gum.

A cylindrical glass staircase with Western red cedar and painted steel mullions dominates the front of the house. The stair treads, along with the floor, are made of recycled spotted gum.

"We spend about ten minutes each morning with the chickens and fish and about an hour a week in the garden, mostly harvesting produce." Geoff Carroll, resident

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The rear garden features an aquaponics system for fish harvesting, a wicking bed to help with drought resistance, a compost system, a vegetable garden, and chicken coops. "It’s a very intensive environment, inspired by our interest in permaculture," says Geoff. "Our garden feeds us, we feed the chickens our scraps, and they give us eggs plus fertilizer for the garden. In a similar way, the fish deposit nitrogen in our pond, which feeds the bacteria on the clay beads in our vertical garden, which feed the plants that filter the water in a continuous cycle."

Cole worked with two landscape companies, Sydney Organic Gardens and Pepo Botanic Design, to create the plant and vegetable gardens and other permaculture features.

Cole worked with two landscape companies, Sydney Organic Gardens and Pepo Botanic Design, to create the plant and vegetable gardens and other permaculture features.

The home is also remarkably energy efficient. Using an evacuated glass tube solar system for hot water and a 1.5Kw photo-voltaic array for electricity, it produces, on average, more power than it consumes.

Upstairs, a breezeway is used as a workspace. Metal and glass louvers by Maxim bring light and air into the master bathroom.

Upstairs, a breezeway is used as a workspace. Metal and glass louvers by Maxim bring light and air into the master bathroom.

While the home is hooked up to the city sewer and water and electricity mains, Julie and Geoff depend little on outside sources for necessities. But one wonders: How hard is their household to maintain? "A well-designed system largely looks after itself," Geoff replies. "The sustainability systems save us time and effort."  

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A Sustainable Home Near Sydney Boasts Chicken Coops, Vertical Gardens, and More - Photo 9 of 9 -