Hamilton Hill Sustainable Home enters new infill era
“People can kick the tyres and see how to have solar panels, rainwater tanks, greywater systems; how a garden can be the biggest room of your home,” Mr Ferreira said.
Mr Ferreira now wants to challenge commercial and “mum and dad” developers to think outside the concrete box, so at the next home open on May 19 he will walk curious visitors through the details of his new development application.
When the City of Cockburn rezoned the area to R40, he and Astrid saw an opportunity.
“We love where we live and we get heartbroken to see big trees getting cut down for banal infill,” he said.
“Perth is obviously very low density-dominated. Urban sprawl areas such as Gwelup or Success or Butler are generally … classic low density, the quarter-acre big rambling block.
“Perth also does some reasonable high density development – East Perth, for example.
“But medium density is where we do badly. They call it the ‘missing middle’.
“Usually Mum and Dad realise they are sitting on a gold mine and think the only way to realise the value is to plonk an ugly McMansion in what was once the backyard. Everything charcoal grey.
“Or, knock it all down and put in five cheek-by-jowl townhouses.
“We can increase the density of Perth, but in a more intelligent way. We call it inspired infill.”
The plan: four families, four homes, 40 trees
The Ferreiras already have a tenanted granny flat on their quarter-acre block, with their tenant sharing their backyard.
They will now build two more apartments.
Mr Ferreria said they had been lucky to work with a “crack team” of a builder-planner and architect who shared the vision and had between them come up with a fantastic design.
The one-bedroom apartments would be one on top of the other, each 60-80 square metres, a standard one-bedroom size.
They would have an energy efficiency rating of 10 (most homes now have a 6-star rating).
They were carefully designed to blend with the garden, main house and granny flat, avoid intrusion on neighbours’ privacy, and to balance private and common space.
The top apartment would have a carefully screened balcony, the lower a private courtyard.
Each faced the massive jacaranda tree that was the “hero of the garden”, complete with tree house, and sandpit in its shade.
None of the 40 trees on the block (ranging from 6-70 years old, 5-25 metres tall) will be felled.
All residents will share the wider backyard, its vegetable garden, chook pen, trees and barbecue.
“You can sunbathe nude or whatever you want, in your own private, secluded space but you can go through your door or gate into the shared space when you decide to,” Mr Ferreira said.
“I don’t see it as a compromise – humans need good, meaningful relationships.”
“I’m feeling very excited about it. It always feels like the next thing we needed to do,” Mr Ferreira said.
“A true community in an urban setting with the density that we need.
“Perth really needs to understand what it means to live in a hot dry environment. Trees and beautiful spaces make us resilient.
“This is not a new concept. In Western Europe you would be used to co-housing or grouped dwellings. It is just unusual in WA.
“The UK now has a Minister for Loneliness. Loneliness is an epidemic. We aren’t designing where people live in order to provide meaningful engagement. That’s what this is.”
But what about the money… and the council?
The Ferreiras have spent about $5000 upfront on planning and architecture services.
They believe once the apartments go on sale they will be about 5 per cent above normal prices for standard equivalent apartments.
Use of recycled materials where possible will bring the price down.
“If you buy one of those new amorphous townhouses they’ll be so hot in summer and so cold in winter the running costs over three to five years will be much higher,” Mr Ferreira said.
“They are also near Baker Square, an established and functioning community space.”
The Ferreiras have the support of their neighbours on the sides, having carefully designed the apartments to be non-intrusive, and kept them to a double-storey limit.
The City of Cockburn has also been “extraordinarily supportive” and the Ferreiras anticipate development approval within the next few months subject to a few more meetings.
The City is also supporting follow-on master classes so people can learn to do this themselves.
“The [medium density] design codes for WA are changing at last, so they want this style of development and it will set a precedent,” Mr Ferreria said.
“Cockburn’s planners are passionate about good planning and they haven’t had much power to change the way development is done, so they desperately want examples out there.
“Many councils are very supportive – we are also doing work with Melville, Bayswater, Stirling, Victoria Park, Fremantle and Canning.
“They know the biggest loss [to urban tree canopy] is mum-and-dad developers thinking there is only one way to develop and it’s to chop down everything.
“Big developers, the Coles and Woollies of developers, just build en masse rather than these unique designs and then we all lose out because they look mass-produced.
“But you don’t have to do the traditional development.”
Emma Young covers breaking news with a focus on science and environment, health and social justice for WAtoday.