CRA unveils designs for Biotic, a high-tech district in Brazil

September 8, 2020 by  
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After two years of development, international design firm Carlo Ratti Associati and consultancy firm Ernst & Young have unveiled their masterplan designs for Biotic, a high-tech innovation district in Brasilia, Brazil. Inspired by the Brazilian capital’s modernist masterplan engineered by urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer, Biotic was conceived as an extension of the city’s historic layout as well as a reinterpretation of the city’s iconic superblocks to create a more nature-centric community with greater mixed-use programming.  Developed for public real estate company TerraCap, the 10-million-square-foot Biotic would be located between the UNESCO World Heritage “Plano Piloto” — the foundation of Brasilia in 1960 — and the 42,000-hectare Brasilia National Park in the northwest of the Federal District. The proposed technology and innovation district focuses on “domesticating nature” to allow residents, workers and visitors closer contact with nature in both public and private areas. Related: How Barcelona “superblocks” return city streets to the people The Biotic project expands on Brasilia’s iconic Superquadra (or superblock ) modules by subdividing each into pedestrian blocks with street fronts. These internal neighborhoods would not only be protected from traffic and pollution, but the inward-facing spaces would also promote social cohesion and community. The masterplan also champions mixed-use programming — a feature that was typically avoided in Brazil’s modernist urban planning in the mid-century. The architects intend to take advantage of Brasilia’s year-round mild climate to cultivate stronger connections with nature. For example, outdoor offices would be designed with curtain walls that could open like real curtains. Digital technologies embedded into plazas , pedestrian zones, shared vegetable gardens and other spaces would be used to monitor sunlight, wind and temperature and create comfortable working environments while allowing close contact with nature. “The office buildings, hovering above the ground level, are designed for sun and wind to come in,” said James Schrader, project manager at CRA. “Thanks to a system of openable wooden facades that can slide along the building like a curtain, the interior spaces will open to the exterior, allowing users to enjoy Brasilia’s weather. This project merges the interior and exterior into one space.” + Carlo Ratti Associati Images via Carlo Ratti Associati

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CRA unveils designs for Biotic, a high-tech district in Brazil

Is almond milk bad for the environment?

March 30, 2020 by  
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Almonds are a nutritious and satisfying food source. Not only are the munchable nuts a popular snack , but they are also used in a variety of other consumable products, such as almond butter and almond flour, and can be used in a milk alternative for people with dairy allergies or vegan preferences. Almond milk, a supermarket staple, is used in everything from coffee to baking. But like many other crops, the spotlight has been on whether almonds and the increased demand for almond milk are damaging the environment. How is almond milk produced? It’s important to first understand that almond production is a regional issue. In the United States, California grows nearly every almond in the country and also provides more than 80% of almonds shipped around the world. Needless to say, that level of production affects a significant part of the state’s land, economy and resources. The result is an industry criticized for extreme water consumption and pesticide use. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Water use in the almond industry The main headline on almonds echoes fears regarding excessive water use. The truth is that farming uses water and a lot of it; almonds are no exception. In fact, a single almond takes about 1.1 gallons of water to produce. However, to put this in perspective, a single pound of beef requires a whopping 1,800 gallons of water , proving that raising cattle is much more resource-intensive than growing almonds. Collectively, meat and dairy production in California uses more water than that of all homes, businesses and government buildings in the entire state. Those figures make choosing almond milk over dairy milk much easier. Farmers realize water is a precious resource, and it’s been a topic of conversation for decades. As a result, California almond producers have spent two decades reducing the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of almonds by 33%. Additionally, they are dedicated to further cutting water usage by another 20% by 2025. Farmers achieve this by targeting water usage where it is needed rather than spraying large areas. Technology is helping, too, with computer-programmed water probes that measure moisture levels in the soil and respond accordingly. Pesticides for growing almonds Another concern centers around the use of pesticides in almond production, as pesticides then end up in the soil and water supply. The answer to this problem is a basic one; simply buy organic . Although the transition has been gradual, an increasing number of almond farmers in California are converting to organic growing methods.  Is our obsession with almond milk killing bees? Then there are the claims that almond milk is killing bees , but almonds are important to bees. Not only is almond nectar the first feast bees have early in the year, but the almond groves support roughly 2 million hives from across the country, making it the world’s largest managed pollination event. With the good comes the bad — pesticides are indeed credited with contributing to colony collapse, enforcing the need to grow and buy organic almonds along with other nuts, fruits and vegetables. Almonds and the economy While California remains cognitive of the potential negative impacts of almond production, the benefits appear to outpace those concerns. As far as the economy goes, The California Agricultural Issues Center says the California almond community delivers significant economic value to the state, including providing 104,000 jobs in the state and boosting GDP by $11 billion. Almond milk’s overall impact on the environment While the discussion of almond production is important to whether almond milk is bad for the environment or not, it’s also critical to realize that most almond milk uses very few almonds. Most almond milks are high in added ingredients, like sugars, artificial flavors and thickeners. Almond milk packaging and transport both have a negative impact, and all of the added ingredients make the nutrition benefits of almond milk questionable at best. You can curb the environmental impact of prepackaged almond milk by making your own at home. There are recipes all over the internet that explain how to do so and even offer twists on the traditional almond flavor by using spices and natural flavorings. So to address the question, “Is almond milk bad for the environment?” the answer is somewhat, but the benefits of a healthy snack producing a healthy economy and a healthy bee population outweigh the water consumption issues. Also remember that almonds offer the same environmental benefits of any other tree, cleaning the air by removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Plus, the branches offer shade to the soil allowing for better water retention and less evaporation. When the leaves drop, they add nutrients to the soil through natural composting. In all, the carbon footprint is somewhat small, especially compared to conventional dairy, while the economic, nutritional and environmental rewards are high. Images via Pixabay

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Is almond milk bad for the environment?

We wore Allbirds’ Tree Runners around the world here’s how they performed

December 27, 2019 by  
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Shoes made from wood pulp that are actually comfortable? Count us in! Allbirds took the internet by storm after its Wool Runners, made using New Zealand merino wool and tested by numerous consumers, were deemed “the world’s most comfortable shoes” by almost everyone. After selling 1 million pairs of shoes just two years after officially launching in March 2016, the brand developed a cult following pursued by celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and former President Barack Obama. At $95 a pair (the company has yet to have a sale, citing the fact that it is already charging the lowest amount possible for its shoes), Allbirds can be enjoyed even by those without celebrity-level wealth. Allbirds was founded in New Zealand, a place where sheep outnumber humans six to one. According to the company, its process uses 60 percent less energy than typical synthetic shoe manufacturing, and companies such as ZQ Merino make sure the wool used in these shoes is held to the highest standards of farming, land management and animal welfare. Related: These waterproof shoes are made of recycled coffee grounds The newer Tree Runners line takes sustainability a step further — these shoes combine the time-tested merino wool with light tree fibers . Inhabitat tried out the Tree Runners for a couple of months to see if these captivating sneakers are all that they are cracked up to be. Allbirds’ Tree Runners are made using sustainably harvested eucalyptus pulp. The material is lightweight, forms to your foot and helps your feet stay cool with its breezy fabric. The tree fiber, TENCEL™ Lyocell, is sourced from South African farms that rely on rainfall rather than irrigation and need less fertilizer. If you compare that to cotton, according to the site, it uses 95 percent less water and cuts the carbon footprint in half. The trees are FSC-certified as well, meaning the wood is harvested sustainably and held to a strict standard to protect forests. To create a signature yarn to meet its own standards for comfort and sustainability, Allbirds combined the eucalyptus tree fiber and merino wool for the unique Tree Runners. The shoe laces are made entirely from post-consumer recycled polyester; the eyelets consist of bio-based TPU, which is formed by plant sugar-consuming microorganisms. For cushioning, Allbirds uses castor bean oil rather than petroleum-based foam to reduce carbon output. So far, we’ve walked many steps in these shoes, including in a couple of cities in Europe, all across Disneyland and beyond. The results were happy feet and hardly any soreness — no easy feat when it comes to full days of non-stop walking. The shoes are great for the changing seasons and temperatures thanks to the breathable yet sturdy fabric , and they are easy to slip on and off at the airport. One of the chief complaints among customers has to do with the sizing, which doesn’t include half-sizes, presumably to avoid wasting product because half-sizes are so minute. Allbirds combats this issue by assuring a 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy if its shoes don’t fit, suggesting buyers size up in the Wool Collection and size down with the Tree Runners and Tree Skippers if they typically wear a half-size. The shoes came packaged in imaginative, 90 percent post-consumer recycled cardboard that served as a combination shoe box and mailer all in one. Another factor that throws consumers off is the claim that the shoes can be comfortably worn without socks due to the breathable and soft merino wool, which minimizes odor (less sweat equals less stink). We wore them for short periods without socks and can say that they were perfectly comfortable, although after about an hour or so, there was slight rubbing on the back of the heel (no blisters to speak of, thankfully). Speaking of wool, don’t let that scare you; merino wool is some of the softest material on earth. It’s nothing like the scratchy wool sweaters your Grandma used to put you in. Despite the name, these shoes don’t feel well-suited for long-distance running. The shoes are machine-washable, and the website sells replacement insoles for $15 each. While there was no issue with foot support on our end, those who need a lot of additional arch support may want to consider getting their own insole inserts. The company is so transparent about its manufacturing methods that you’d almost think they wanted others to steal their ideas (hint: they do ). It is a mindful organization that clearly values the environment while still retaining a business model that keeps its sustainable ways in the public eye. Allbirds is also a Certified B Corporation , meaning that it is required to consider the impact of its business decisions on the environment. Comfort aside — and these shoes are very comfortable — the focus on genuinely sustainable materials is the real triumph with Allbirds’ one-of-a-kind footwear, especially considering that, even in 2019, a vast majority of the shoes in American closets are made from non-compostable, unrecyclable plastic . Not only is it the perfect minimalist shoe, but it also has all the style and comfort you’d ever want in an everyday sneaker. + Allbirds Images via Katherine Gallagher / Inhabitat Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by Allbirds. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.

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We wore Allbirds’ Tree Runners around the world here’s how they performed

Conservation group to purchase worlds largest privately owned giant sequoia forest

October 2, 2019 by  
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Alder Creek, a 530-acre forest billed as the largest privately owned giant sequoia property in the world, will be acquired by century-old conservation group, Save the Redwoods League. The group will ultimately transfer the land to the United States Forest Service to safeguard the trees as a national treasure. Alder Creek’s sequoia trees number 483, many with diameters of 6 feet or greater. Mightiest of Alder Creek’s sequoias is Stagg Tree, believed to be the fifth-largest tree in the world. It towers at 250 feet with a width of 25 feet. Related: How National Parks benefit the environment Known for reaching heights of more than 300 feet, giant sequoias are esteemed for their rarity. What sets apart the giant sequoia from other trees is that it lives to be up to 3,000 years old, older than Christmas itself. Only two other tree species — the Great Basin bristlecone pine and the Patagonian cypress — have members older than the giant sequoia. These trees are only found in approximately 73 groves across 48,000 acres of Sierra Nevada territory. Most of the land these majestic behemoths grow on is in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Forest and Yosemite National Park .  The height and girth of one giant sequoia means this ancient type of tree is resilient. Its carbon-sequestering capacity makes it irreplaceable, which is why its long-term conservation is of poignant significance. It is also home to such endangered animals as the American marten, California spotted owl and Pacific fisher. “Old growth of any species , let alone the world’s largest trees, is extraordinarily rare,” explained Samuel Hodder, president and SEO of Save the Redwoods League. “There is precious little left of the natural world as we found it before the Industrial Revolution. Alder Creek is the natural world at its most extraordinary.” Alder Creek, located about 10 miles south of Yosemite National Park, is comparable in size and significance to the renowned Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Of the 1,200 acres of giant sequoia stands still held privately, Alder Creek is the largest, measuring about five times the size of other privately owned parcels. Alder Creek has been on land owned by the Rouch family since the 1940s. Claude Albert Rouch initially purchased the land for logging . While the family logged pine and fir for lumber, they made sure the giant sequoias remained unscathed. The deal has been under negotiation for the past 20 years, and the group has until the close of 2019 to garner the $15.6 million required to secure Alder Creek’s purchase. + Save The Redwoods League Via Times Standard Photography by Victoria Reeder via Save the Redwoods League

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Conservation group to purchase worlds largest privately owned giant sequoia forest

More than half of Europes native trees face extinction

September 30, 2019 by  
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Europe’s endemic trees are threatened by extinction, states a recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment on biodiversity. The unfortunate decline is due to the combination of three paramount factors: problematic invasive species , unsustainable deforestation from logging and wood harvesting and urban development. According to the IUCN’s European Red List , there are 454 native European tree species, of which 265 species are found nowhere else on the planet except in continental Europe, and 252 species are found only in the 28 European Union (EU) member-states. Of these, 168 species (or 42 percent) are regionally threatened with extinction. Related: Ireland will plant 440 million trees in 20 years Circumstances adversely affecting European trees include changes in forest and woodland management. More poignant is the significance of ecosystem modification, as in the case of forest fire, land abandonment, agricultural encroachment, livestock farming and even tourism. But the three most hazardous are invasive species, deforestation and urban development. “It is alarming that over half of Europe’s endemic tree species are now threatened with extinction ,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List Unit. “Trees are essential for life on Earth, and European trees, in all their diversity, are a source of food and shelter for countless animal species, such as birds and squirrels, and play a key economic role. From the EU to regional assemblies and the conservation community, we all need to work together to ensure their survival.” The IUCN report calls for more data gathering and analysis, especially regarding overlooked species. By improving knowledge of all these “overlooked” European species, the continent’s biodiversity can be better managed and protected. Tree species , unfortunately, are rarely prioritized in conservation planning and policy making. But it is hoped that the recent disclosure of the IUCN’s European Red List findings will change that. Growing public awareness can help galvanize urbanization control, conservation action and sustainable management. “This report has shown how dire the situation is for many overlooked, undervalued species that form the backbone of Europe’s ecosystems and contribute to a healthy planet,” explained Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s European Regional Office. “We need to mitigate human impact on our ecosystems and prioritize the protection of these species.” + IUCN Images via Noël Zia Lee

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More than half of Europes native trees face extinction

Steel-framed treehouse slated for Malaysian national park

July 19, 2019 by  
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Visitors to the Taman Tugu National Forest Park in Kuala Lumpur will soon have a playful steel observation tower to take in the immense tropical forest. Designed by Daniel Tiong, Nature’s Catalog consists of three cubed steel frames which interlock vertically to create multiple level, open-air platforms that rise up to through the tree canopy. Recently named the winner of the Greenovation Gazebo Design Competition, the Nature’s Catalog design will be installed along a newly opened forest trail in Malaysia’s National Forest Park, Taman Tugu. The location is an idyllic tropical stetting where hikers on the trail will be soon able to enjoy the beautiful views from the tree canopies. Related: Awesome two-story treehouse is half jungle gym and all childhood dream come true The observation tower is comprised of three steel cube-like framed with open sides, creating a series of open-air platforms that rise up vertically from the ground. To get to the structure, a roped off trail leads from the hiking path. A perforated split staircase leads visitors to the first level platform, which then rises up through the middle platform. There, a sunken courtyard provides a nice space for large groups. A fun cat ladder leads up to the top of the observation deck , allowing for prime views of the lush tropical landscape. The multiple platforms were all purposely laid out in tight configurations, and at differing heights, creating private reading or contemplation spaces, open terraces, as well as courtyards, reading areas, a meditation room, etc. Additionally, the tower’s platforms are made out of perforated panels so that the forest trees and vines can grow unobstructed through the slats over time. Due to the natural, remote location, all of the building materials, which are minimal apart from the steel frames themselves, will be delivered by hand and assembled on site in order to reduce impact on the existing landscape. + Daniel Tiong Photography by Steven Ngu Ngie Woon, Daniel Tiong

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Steel-framed treehouse slated for Malaysian national park

Passive solar home makes the most of a difficult, triangular site in Sydney

July 17, 2019 by  
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When asked to renovate and expand a home on a challenging triangular lot in Sydney, local architectural practice studioplusthree decided to build upward to make the most of the awkward site. By elevating the home’s new addition into the canopy of a large existing fig tree, the architects maximized access to natural light and city views while taking advantage of the tree’s shade. Dubbed the Platform House after its “new living platform,” the updated house also boasts increased energy efficiency thanks to the use of passive solar strategies as well as the installation of solar hot water panels and a rainwater collection system. Completed over the span of 36 months on a tight budget, the Platform House has been enlarged to cover an area of 2,131 square feet with a 753-square-foot basement. The existing ground floor was retained but reconfigured to house four bedrooms, a sitting room and an outdoor courtyard, while most of the attention was given to the new elevated extension. In contrast to the all-white ground floor volume, the new “platform” is clad in blackened timber and cantilevers out to provide shelter to the courtyard below. Related: A prefab home in Sydney celebrates indoor-outdoor living “Responding to the triangular site, the diagonal cut of the first floor volume is manifested in elements throughout from window reveals to planter boxes and outdoor seating,” the architects explained in the press release. “Acting as both cladding and screen, the upstairs volume is wrapped in a charred cypress , all of which was undertaken by hand, on-site. The design aims to integrate functionality into the details to enrich family living — such as the northern edge of the elevated deck, expressed in a continuous element that incorporates planting, outdoor seating, privacy screen, benchtop and storage.” For added privacy, the new living platform is partially sheathed in a series of sliding perforated bronze screens that protect against solar heat gain yet still let in natural light when closed. Deep eaves and recessed blinds shelter glass openings, while the fig tree provides additional protection against the western sun. The open-plan living spaces also open up to a north-facing outdoor terrace. + studioplusthree Photography by Brett Boardman via studioplusthree

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Passive solar home makes the most of a difficult, triangular site in Sydney

Architects use prefabricated glulam pillars and vibrant colors to create playful beach home in Rio de Janiero

February 25, 2019 by  
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São Paulo-based architects, Nitsche Arquitetos have unveiled a beautifully colorful beach home made out of a unique blend of building materials, including prefabricated timber pillars, multi-colored window shades and a translucent polycarbonate roof. Completely surrounded by a dense native forest adjacent to one of the most beautiful beaches located along the São Paulo coast, the Casa Praia Vermelha is elevated off the ground by six large glulam pillars to set the home’s living areas high up in the tree canopy The house has two main levels, plus the bottom floor, which houses the garage and storage. The structure is lifted off the ground by six large glulam pillars (Glued laminated timber) to blend the home into the surrounding lush greenery. Along with the abundance of trees, the home’s flat roof overhangs significantly to provide extra shading and the large windows help provide natural ventilation when opened during the searing summer months. Related: Architecture students build a tiny CLT classroom in just 3 weeks The exterior of the home manages to stand out among the green canopy, however, thanks to its series of colorful window shades. The varying hues of yellow, orange and red give the design a fun,whimsical aesthetic. Contrasting to the vibrant colors is the design’s more austere building materials, including a thermos-acoustic metal cover and translucent alveolar polycarbonate roof tile cover that illuminates the interior with muted natural light. The square volume of the home is comprised of eight rectangular modules, four make up the large living room and kitchen spaces, while the remaining four house the bedrooms. Thanks to the translucent roof, the interior is bright and airy, with hints of warm wood to create a comfortable and welcoming living area. To further blend the home’s interior into its natural surroundings, large sliding doors open up to an open-air deck with a splash pool in the corner. + Nitsche Arquitetos Via Archdaily Photography by André Scarpa and Cacá Bratke, via Nitsche Arquitetos

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Architects use prefabricated glulam pillars and vibrant colors to create playful beach home in Rio de Janiero

It’s time to decide: clean your room or plant a tree

February 5, 2019 by  
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Are luxury and sustainability compatible? The Parq Vancouver complex in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia strives to have it all by balancing two luxury hotels, a casino and eight restaurants with LEED gold standards and a host of environmental initiatives, including the option to forgo one common hotel amenity in favor of a greener option. One of the Parq’s newer programs is a twist on skipping housekeeping in favor of an alternative reward, something becoming more popular among hotels . At the Parq , when a guest checks in for more than two nights, they can skip room cleaning and opt instead for either 500 bonus Marriott points per night or having a tree planted. That’s one tree for every two nights. If they stayed at the hotel long enough, soon they’d foster a small grove. Related: Meet the teen planting 150 trees for every person on Earth To personalize the tree planting program, the Parq allows guests to include their names or dedicate the seedling to somebody else. This information appears on a webpage showing a cartoon version of the forest, including where the tree is planted and to whom it’s dedicated. Workers plant the trees in the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area near Calgary, Alberta. Cutting down on hotel housekeeping is better for both the environment and the hotel’s operating costs. Less frequent washing of towels and bedding means decreased water usage and fewer chemicals dripping into sewers. “You get the benefit of not using cleaning chemicals in the rest of the room,” Jeanne Marie Varney, who teaches courses on sustainability at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, told the New York Times . “Not running vacuum cleaners saves energy .” The Parq, open since late 2017, also offers an unusual 30,000-square-foot park on its sixth floor, designed by landscape artist Christopher Phillips of PFS Studio. This elevated park combines an oxygen hit from more than 200 pine trees with dramatic views of Vancouver’s skyline. If that’s not enough green space , travelers can visit next door province Alberta to look for the tree that exists because they skipped room cleaning. The Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area welcomes hikers and snowshoers. + Parq Vancouver Via New York Times Images via Heiko Stein

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It’s time to decide: clean your room or plant a tree

A Victorian cottage gets a stylish and sustainable makeover

January 17, 2019 by  
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In one of its latest eco-conscious retrofits, Australian architecture firm Green Sheep Collective has given a single-fronted timber Victorian cottage a sustainable transformation in inner Melbourne. The renovation and expansion project combined recycled and eco-certified materials with low-tech, passive solar principles to reduce the carbon footprint of the home while improving livability. Filled with light and contemporary flourishes, the updated house — named Magnolia Soul — has also been designed to embrace the outdoors. Commissioned by a young family with pets, Magnolia Soul was designed with an emphasis on spacious indoor-outdoor living as well as healthy and eco-friendly materials. During the renovation, the architects preserved a mature magnolia tree — a stunning Magnolia x soulangeana — and turned it into a main focal point. In addition to the tree, the existing property conditions also informed the building’s siting, mass and volume, which were all optimized to follow passive solar principles. Moreover, the building footprint is minimized in favor of maximizing the garden area. “A unique folding roof form envelopes and cradles robust living spaces, whose lowered floor level is embraced by adjacent decking,” the architects explained, having created a flexible open-plan interior layout with strong sight lines to the outdoors. “Views of the magnolia tree are intentionally framed by the roof structure, through a high-angled window and bay window seat. The generous and versatile window seat creates a lovely place to relax, read a book, admire the flowering magnolia or sit on the edge of the garden. High angular ceilings offer views of the magnolia, allow dappled light to penetrate deep into the residence and provide stack effect ventilation.” Related: Smart Home targets affordability and eco-friendly design in Australia The home is oriented for optimal thermal comfort : north-facing windows draw in natural heat for winter, while deep eaves and strategically placed windows for cross ventilation combat unwanted summer heat gain. Low-E double glazing and effective insulation also accommodate a temperate climate. Recycled, low-emission and ethnically procured materials were used wherever possible. For added resource savings, the home is equipped with a rainwater tank that reuses roof runoff for the laundry and toilets. + Green Sheep Collective Photography by Emma Cross via Green Sheep Collective

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