When Craig Byatt Architecture was approached by eco-minded clients who wanted a home that was off-grid in an urban context and built with a combination of natural, reclaimed and locally sourced materials, the plans for the Urban Earth House were born. What’s more, because the clients’ children recently moved out, the resulting 70-square-meter structure in Melbourne, Australia was to become their “forever home.”
The greatest challenge arose when the building site was examined. Privacy was an issue because access was constrained through a shared driveway. The site was also surrounded by neighbors, which worried the clients as they expressed eagerness for natural light. This, combined with a steep, small property block and a limited budget, led to a difficult time finding the right builder. After turning to four different building companies, all of which turned down the project, the clients decided to build the home themselves.
The Urban Earth House has many green design features. Double-glazed windows, recycled glass bulk insulation batts in the roof and ceiling spaces, mud bricks and recycled concrete walls help the home maintain a comfortable temperature year-round. A north-facing glasshouse was built onsite to help utilize the sunlight for winter vegetables and seed propagation for the clients’ organic farm. The skeleton of the house was constructed with recycled and reclaimed hardwood from an old road bridge, and the project used local tradespeople and suppliers as often as possible.
To make the Urban Earth House even more exceptional, the clients commissioned local artisans to add unique touches. The kitchen backsplash was designed by a local painter and printed onto glass. A local metal worker crafted the door handles using tools owned by the grandfather of one of the clients.
According to the architect’s statement, “This project’s recipe called for experimentation and adventure.” By “working with the laws of nature” and using “what’s already there” as much as possible, they were able to create a unique, off-grid home that respected the building site and supported the clients’ sustainable ambitions.