When Australian architect Jiri Lev set out to design a home for his young family in Tasmania, he saw it as an opportunity to try something different. "I consider self experimentation a bit of an architect’s moral obligation and duty," he says.
Rather than relying on traditional synthetic materials, he sought out raw, locally sourced materials—sheep wool insulation and Tasmanian timber like macrocarpa pine, for example—to build a compact, sustainable, and affordable home that’s a prototype for his firm’s long-term project of developing ecovillages throughout Australia.
"Our vision is a network of small, compact urban forms surrounded by shared agricultural land and well-managed wilderness," explains Jiri. "Our small cabin demonstrates to potential investors how very comfortable homes could be built economically, utilizing local resources and best practices, and regionally informed design language."
The 280-square-foot cabin, a studio meant to be the first phase of a two- to three-bedroom home, is a modern interpretation of the country’s Georgian-period vernacular, which Jiri considers to be "the most beautiful and appropriate of Tasmanian precedents." Buildings in this style—marked by simple, rectangular structures and gable roofs—can be seen in well-preserved Tasmanian towns like Oatlands and Richmond.
Equipped with a kitchenette, full bathroom, and a loft area, as well as a cantilevered box window seat, the space is home to Jiri, his wife, and their children, both under the age of 3. Flexibility is key to the design, since it will be expanded upon in the future.
"By simply swapping the fridge for a washing machine and adding a single wall, it can easily be converted into a laundry when the house is extended," Jiri says of the kitchenette. "There will be no demolition whatsoever required when the extension is added later this year."
Sustainably, individually sourced Tasmanian timber is the primary construction material—untreated radiata pine makes up the framing and floor structure, while the floor is Tasmanian oak and the cladding is durable, long-lasting macrocarpa pine.
"A facade like this, ventilated from both sides, can anecdotally last decades without any paint or oil," says Jiri, adding that the timber boards used for interior lining are "quite vapor permeable, maintaining the optimum 50-60 percent humidity inside."
The materials are largely organic, so if just a few things were removed—like the furniture, bathroom tiles, electric cables, pipes, and the vapor-permeable wrap—the home would naturally decompose into the soil.
Built at a cost of $65,322 USD (which could be knocked down to $58,064 with a simpler bathroom and no window seat), the home is no more expensive than a commercially built project, but much healthier to live in, notes Jiri.
The location of the home, Meander Valley in north central Tasmania, is ideal for an experimental home as it experiences a wide range of weather conditions—from snow and heavy frost to gale-force winds with intense rainfall and the occasional heat wave. It’s also a region prone to brush fires, and it sits atop a protected karst system—a type of landscape where the soluble bedrock creates sinkholes and caves. All of which Jiri says add "a welcome layer of complexity and relevance to our research."
In order to address societal problems like the housing crisis, Jiri sees a need for "an easily replicable model of an affordable home which almost anyone willing could afford to build and later easily extend, without wasting time and resources." He’s designed the cabin to meet these needs, and he’s made the plans public domain so that anyone can use them, free of charge.
The second phase of the home, planned for later this year, will involve a large timber structure wrapped in a curtain wall consisting of 40 individual panels—each filled with a different material, like wood chips or recycled paper (anyone can submit material suggestions for infill through the website 40walls.org). Jiri will monitor the panels for performance and durability, and the results will be entered into the public domain for all to use.
"The project is valuable not only because of the scope of experimentation it will allow me as the architect," says Jiri, "but also because unlike laboratory tests, this will be an actual space lived in by a family, with all the associated stresses a regular home undergoes."
Builder: Timber World
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