If I ever decided to build a new house, I would most definitely engage a business like EME Design. They create beautiful, sustainable buildings inspired by a process of dialogue and exchange.
EME are inspired by the unearthing of new ideas and solutions and relish the opportunity to evolve a design with their clients. When designing, they look to the broader landscape and include conversations with landscape architects, specialist consultants, local communities and councils.
EME’s successful medium-density projects point to the growing demand for sustainable buildings and the potential for strong returns on these investment projects. A common sense approach to design and construction encourages engagement between users and their environment.
Luke Middleton, Director of EME Design in Fitzroy North, says that good design starts with listening, looking and learning; about the site, client and mirco climate. “Our creative response is founded on these learnings for each project. We take the constraints and convert them in to opportunities. This way every project is uniquely tailored. A good fit for both the client and the site.”
Some of the materials, concepts and processes used in their projects include:
Thermal Mass – Rammed Earth/Superadobe/Rendered brick, etc to act as a “thermal battery” and moderate internal temperatures.
Whitewashed plywood panels – instead of plasterboard as they can be unscrewed and reused unlike plasterboards, designed to use whole board where possible to minimise cutting and waste.
Water tanks – to irrigate gardens (preferably permaculture ones), flush toilets, etc
Doubled glazed window – either timber or composite to limit thermal bridging. Windows as framed views (like exquisite paintings) rather than walls of glass (the Zen window!)
Maximising northern solar access – to living spaces whilst minimizing glazing to the south & west to avoid unwanted heat loss/gain.
Generous eaves – to allow winter sun into the building whilst excluding summer sun.
Water features – to the north for evaporative cooling.
Planning and window locations – to encourage cross ventilation.
Use of double height spaces such as stairwells – for heat stack effect to purge excess heat in summer.
Deciduous plants – such as grape or fruit trees for seasonal shading.
Holistic design rather than additive – good integrated passive design, rather than sustainable “bells and whistles”.
Founded in 1999 by Luke, he is very inspired by nature and it is the lens through which he sees his professional and private life. At times Luke has moments of daunting contemplation at the amazing complexity and beauty of nature. Luke’s weeks are punctuated by exercise in the great outdoors and he is passionate about bike riding.
Combined with Luke’s thirst for understanding, he has pursued many and varied projects ranging from academic papers on sustainable design through to philosophical, conceptual furniture design. Luke worked with the Smart Water Fund between 2002-2006, which lead him to provide education to councils and the public on efficient energy and water design. His projects at Wright’s Terrace, Eco Town Houses and Japanese Project were used as Case Studies.
Luke’s foray into using rammed earth in the River House, lead to a partnership with Melbourne University into detailed analysis on how effective rammed earth and passive design can be and more importantly, how thermal computer modelling versus first rate energy modelling compares with actual measured results. Luckily for Luke the actual results far outstripped the modelled predicted results.
Luke says some clients are not confident to put forward their mud map as they fear it will stifle his creative solutions. However Luke sees plans, diagrams and words as all being part of a brief. Luke’s methodology is not conventional, often he works with the client to find ways to optimize the spatial planning with the view to reducing the size of the footprint of their building – without compromise.
Can you tell us about your team?
Joanne, a graduate Architect working with us, is passionate about social as well as environmental sustainability and loves the way good, tailor made architecture can improve the lives of those who occupy it. She is also a permaculture designer and likes to create spaces that build community and connection with the natural world.
Vincent, also a graduate Architect, brings a touch of Europe to the EME team, graduating in both lighting engineering and architecture in Lyon, France. His attention to detail and systematic approach forms an important part of the EME design development and documentation process.
How did you start the business and what inspired you?
Before starting EME, I worked in construction and then returned to university to study architecture. During my studies I found there was sadly a lack of priority in both environmental sustainability, and a blind spot when it came to the social and operational aspects of architecture. In other words many architects celebrated aesthetics above all else and diluted the importance of the user experience.
Jorn Utzon’s manifesto was an inspiration, his father was a naval architect and Jorn was more of a Renaissance man. He was impassioned by not only the creative and aesthetics of architecture but how it was put together and found joy in informing the engineering and other solutions associated with the process. One example is the Majorca house where he reduced the building components to 6 elements directly inspired by the vernacular building. For me, architecture should be more outward looking and the architect should take joy in many influences outside of the industry.
Creating a building is a bit like directing a film. Within the shelter there is a series of experiences both viewing the exterior, moving through and relaxing within the building. The way that one perceives the building through this choreography leads to quite a considerable amount of finessing of the form, the building and the composition of windows, doors and walls that manipulate, intensify, frame situations and views.
What made you fall in love with the idea?
There is a joy in creating a clever solutions, and it can bring a smile to people’s faces. If you layer clever solutions with sustainable solutions you can get more richness. I enjoy the challenge of constraints.
Was there anything you didn’t love about it?
One of my biggest frustrations is “Green Wash” in all its shapes, forms and disguises. It is quite frustrating to see especially larger firms that spend more energy telling people how green they are instead of doing it. With the event of any new standards and regulations there will be those that are inspired by them and those that exploit them.
What are your thoughts on sustainability and how is this part of your business?
There is more to sustainability than a tick the box checklist. Sustainability is not just about the bells and whistles of sustainability (slap on a PV panel), it should be holistic and involved at the very earliest design stages. However, it is heartening that there is a thirst for real changes out there and more clients who have sustainability as a priority in their briefs.
A sustainable approach is fundamental to our business – it has been for the last 15 years. We try to continuously improve our practices, habits and systems to this end.
Do you have any tips for other people wanting to create a sustainable home?
Less is more. Engage an expert even if it is just for some initial direction or concept design – getting the fundamentals right at the start makes a massive difference. Read the small print or ask the hard questions, not everything is as sustainable as the head line states. “the big print giveth, the small print taketh away” – (Tom Waites).
Think about lifecycle cost, not just embodied energy and operational efficiency. What will happen to a product at the end of its life?
Some of your favourite projects?
Wrights terrace, designed in 2002 – inspiring spaces, beautiful natural timbers, flexible living. This project would outperform most new homes built today.
Mildura River House 2004 – lovely clients and a great site. Our first rammed earth home. This project includes underground labyrinth cooling, passive and active solar systems. We monitored the performance of this building with the support of Melbourne University, the results were incredible.
Mildura Eco Living 2012 – regeneration of a landfill site with first stage of an eco environment park to bring awareness to sustainable issues. A lovely compact space that is a sustainable exemplar that could be used as a public building or easily converted into a home. It keeps itself warm in winter and cool in summer with less than 60watts of power which is a fraction of the energy produced by its photovoltaics. For example on a -2C morning it was 20C inside all with a couple of micro computer fans.
Cathedralette 2013 – delightful atypical to a compact inner city block, utilizing the footprint of the worker’s cottage and taking inspiration from a local hall. Inverting the plan to locate the living towards the street housed under a theatrical double height gable roof. Our client had lived in the previous house and seen her family grow up there. She had dreamed of a new home for 20 years. She wanted to retain her productive garden with her chooks and this was a fantastic constraint as we had to work within the existing footprint that was all that remained the same.
There was a complete departure with a flipping of the floor plan to face the street and give it a northern aspect. The client’s desire to have a small upstairs room, lead to a mezzanine that allows it to be connected to the living space and it is housed within the fold of the roof form rather than the traditional gingerbread renovation response. We introduced a thermal wall, it was another opportunity to provide a fun sculptural element. Since the client has moved back in her garden is flourishing and she has enjoyed planting a front garden with a combination of trees that she love which also complement the street.
Sunnymeade 2001 – a family home that had a home office. It was inspired by the client’s desire to feel like a tree house. The horse shoe shaped plan forms a north facing courtyard. I like the way we introduced the blade wall that intersects the courtyard and screens the garage and goes on to become a grow wall. Together with the client we found the perfect position for the building to make sure the poetic beauty of the existing malaleuca trees could remain. It is a favourite because the houses has clearly grown with the family and the clients have done a fantastic job with the landscape. It embodies all the EME principles – carefully framed views, capturing as much northern warmth as possible heat stack, multi-use spaces, resisted the knee jerk wall of glass to the south just because there happens to be some water in the distance. The views are carefully framed to cut out the surrounding buildings, whilst allowing the clients to see key landmarks such as the light house.
Biggest Challenge in setting up and running your business?
In some cases clients come to the table with the mass media idea of sustainability (solar panels and a bit of recycled timber) and it requires some time to explain the deeper processes of sustainability. On the upside it puts a smile on my dial when clients take their new found understanding and run with it.
What do people say when they see your work?
Often people say the experience of being in our buildings far outstrips the photograph and we are pleased about it because we design for people to occupy our spaces, not just look at them in magazines.
People often think our spaces are larger than they are. I put this down to our ability to interconnect and overlap the perception of spaces through composition and sight lines.
People often say the spaces feel very warm and inviting, but with modern clean lines. I put this down to our choice of natural materials and modern crafted detailing.
Do you recommend any particular materials, processes or ideas for people wanting to create a more sustainable and mindful home?
– Go local with materials and furniture
– Try to work out what is enough, there has been a trend over the last 20 years of building larger homes with lots of wasted spaces and extra rooms. Quality not quantity.
– Natural, renewable materials
– No matter how big or small your home or apartment, think about how food production can be integrated. Not only is this rewarding it can save you money, offer shade and can be done on a balcony, verandah or a ¼ acre block. There is heaps of information on the internet, or consult an expert.
Anything you want to add?
Being inspired by the process of creating delight and doing it efficiently. There is no point in architecture if there is no artfulness and it’s the same with sustainability, it should be fun without sacrificing effectiveness. This balance of “delightful efficiency” should be applied to your whole life.
You can see more of the work of this outstanding company on their website here
Do you have a good grasp of sustainable design? Or do you have any questions?