Pushing the envelope
This article appeared in Green Magazine vol.42, February 2015
It’s not every architectural practice that seeks to go above and beyond the energy efficiency-focused requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA)’s Section J. Technē Architecture + Interior Design make a point of it.
“We’re always looking for additional ways to enhance the quality and internal climate of a space. It’s a key part of our overall consideration, from concept to completion,” says one of Technē’s two directors, Nick Travers.
Travers and fellow Director Justin Northrop lead a 26-strong team of architects, draftspeople and interior designers to seek longevity and robustness in design. This shows in their choice of materials – hardwearing ones like steel and timber. Only recycled or renewable timbers, mind you, and of the latter, only Australian hardwoods pass muster.
Technē’s portfolio splits neatly into thirds: commercial, hospitality and residential projects. They’re the appointed National Architect for Porsche Cars Australia, and have built a reputation for using materials in new and interesting ways.
Take their renovation and courtyard and beer garden extension one of Melbourne’s oldest and best-loved pubs, The Prahran Hotel. Technē responded to the brief for an “exceptional concept” by suggesting stacked concrete pipes for the exterior, and a courtyard with a visible framework of glazed steel for the interior.
The pipes were sealed with Viridian high performance glass then ‘boothed’ on the interior – fitted with blackbutt that follows the curve of the pipes, and bench seats upholstered with natural leather.
“The circularity of the pipes melds with the pub’s existing art deco styling, and they’re storm water pipes, so they’re designed to be incredibly robust.” says Travers.
The courtyard’s internal façade is in fact a clever envelope that can be tuned to suit the climate – from right open, to closed shut, and all the iterations Melbourne weather might inspire in-between.
The envelope is just one of the ways Technē extended the requirements of Section J. Others include photovoltaic panels for solar-generated energy on the roof, rainwater collection for plant irrigation and toilet flushing, and generous planting to give the interior a cooling microclimate.
On other projects, they focus on what Travers terms ‘adaptive re-use’ – taking existing materials and rejuvenating them.
“We’re interested in frugality of design. There’s no need for a clean slate.”
At Barry Café in Northcote, simple interventions within the shell of an existing café were the order of the day. The shop’s facades were updated with operable steel glazing, and a new entrance was established on the side street. Internally, the dark palate of the old tenancy was stripped back and refreshed, and texture was regained by uncovering the materials and structure of the original building.
Meanwhile at Northrop House in Flemington, where Justin Northrop lives with his partner Mia and their two children, the shining Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) star is the roof. A north-facing skillion number – a single, significantly angled surface that allows runoff – it maximises the penetration of the winter sun into the living space, while the overhang prevents heat gain in summer. As on the Prahran Hotel, the design takes a creative approach to materials:
“The roof essentially a cool room panel filled with foam. It’s homogenous, which means there are no gaps, and no weak points. It is extremely heat resistant, and has a really high insulation value,” says Travers.
We can expect to see more projects with outstanding ESD elements from Technē in the years to come, says Travers. But that doesn’t mean their work won’t be easy on the eye, too.
“Ultimately, ESD has to be more than functional; we still want to achieve beautiful design in the process.”