Chris from Ironbark Architects Shares his Thoughts on Sustainability


Australians are spending more time at home, ushering in a new era for design that’s practical, greener and more sustainable.

To celebrate our society “Going Green”, Big Ass Fans has teamed up with Chris Freeburn from Ironbark Architects to explore the opportunities and hurdles for sustainable design.

How is greater awareness about environmental costs changing the way we build and renovate?

I would say that a result driven by an awareness of environmental costs is the consideration of the materials used to go into making a building. For example an awareness of the amount of embodied energy involved in concrete might drive a designer to aim to use less concrete in a design. This is not to say that there is not a place or a need for concrete in buildings, but where we can limit its use and combine its use with other materials that have a lower embodied energy can make a big difference. Considering the lifecycle of materials (ie. how they can be reused at the end of a buildings lifespan) is another consideration. Some materials are more readily reused than others which should be a key consideration when selecting materials to be used.

What are some of the biggest myths we need to bust about sustainable living? What are we getting wrong?

Many things! Unfortunately, the industry is inundated with “greenwashing”. Perhaps one of the biggest myths is that sustainable design is more expensive. This myth persists because it largely depends on perspective. Yes, it is more expensive to spend more money on a higher quality building wrap or on double glazing, but the running costs of the building will be offset in the future as a result of those up front costs. So whilst there is truth in that sustainable design is more expensive, some decisions such as locating windows with the correct orientation for heat gain in Winter and avoiding it in Summer can cost no more than poorly orienting those windows.

Is there anything we need to avoid when we start a new sustainable project?

Too often, ‘sustainable’ moves can be no more than green “add-ons” at the end of a project such as the inclusion of rainwater tanks or solar PV panels. Rainwater tanks and solar panels are important aspects but more important are the first moves such as “has the building been oriented correctly?”, “has the building footprint been reduced to be as efficient as possible?”, “has the unnecessary cutting down of trees been avoided?”, or the big one “could this be a renovation rather than a new build?”

What are some of the biggest hurdles either you have faced who wish to live more sustainably? Is it about material costs or difficulty sourcing the right products?

Knowledge is one of the biggest hurdles. Old habits die hard and our less sustainable ways of living have been ingrained in our behaviour for some time. It takes education and knowledge to learn that there are better and more ethical ways of doing things and requires some inward critique in order to make change.

What are some of the easiest ways we can live more sustainably?

Use less energy – use the AC less often, put on a jumper or open some doors

Use less water – every drop counts

Reuse and recycle – consume less and consider the packaging of the things you buy

Go #plasticfree

Could you tell me a bit more about passive design and how this is so different to other styles of design? (I loved how you spoke on the phone about how sustainability is in the way you design, from where you position windows to no a/c but taking advantage of natural breezes)

Passive design principles use the local climate and site conditions to maximise comfort whilst minimising energy use. The key elements of passive design are: building location and orientation on the site; building layout; window design; insulation (including window insulation); thermal mass; shading; and ventilation. Each of these elements works with others to achieve comfortable temperatures and good indoor air quality.

Can fans help you be more sustainable? And how?

Absolutely. Ceiling fans use a very small amount of electricity to run and generate air movement to create a cooling effect without needing to change the temperature of the space. They can also be used in winter where they push the warmer air (which naturally rises up to the ceiling) back down to where the occupants are at floor level. When used in conjunction with passive design principles they can remove the need for active heating/cooling systems such as air conditioning which consume large amounts of energy.

Chris Freeburn also did a project called The Tin Shed House project which exemplifies these principles. More can be found about this project HERE.

Chris will be speaking at The Big Ass Fans Sustainable Living event in Sydney on 23 July.


Ironbark Architecture



Build by Design


All images in this article relate to the Tin Shed House project.

Photographer (image 1):

Andy Macpherson

Photographer (image 2 and 3):

The Guthrie Project


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