It's no secret that we love architecture. We wish everyone had the opportunity to work with an architect; to achieve the perfect home that is not just functional, but also sustainable, comfortable year-round and a joy to live in.
But we're not naive, we realise not everyone can afford the services of an architect.
And, unfortunately, the alternatives offered by bulk builders typically prioritise quantity over quality and ignore simple steps like good solar orientation, the impact of volume to create a sense of spaciousness and quality, naturally beautiful materials which could dramatically improve the liveability of a home without adding substantial cost. They're poorly designed, mass-produced, and energy-hungry.
Currently, the average Aussie doesn't have many other options, though. Unless you can afford an architect or designer, what else can you do?
Well, now there is a third way. An innovative new startup offers a range of pre-designed plans by architects complete with the drawings, material schedules and all the information you need to build a cost-effective, efficient and beautiful home.
It's called Architopia. And the name nails it, really, because their vision of rebooting Australian housing sure sounds like paradise to us.
Architopia offer simple designs with a focus on sustainability, quality of space and affordability.
Architopia founders Leon, Rob and Sophie have backgrounds in architecture and interiors and for years bonded over-excited late-night conversations dreaming up ways they could use their skills to transform the way Aussies live and give those building their own home more options. They're passionate about bringing high-quality, well-designed homes to everyone, not just the 5 percent of people who work one-on-one with an architect.
But what began as a bit of a pipe dream between friends evolved into a solid plan after Leon designed and built a house for himself. Before long he was fielding more and more requests from friends and family. They'd seen what he was able to build on a tight budget and they wanted in. As friends and friends of friends lined up for their own designs, the Architopia trio realised they were on to something. Their brand of simple, thoughtful and sustainable homes was clearly tapping into something missing in the current market and every home they built became a prototype for what they would eventually offer all Australians.
Access to natural light and cross-ventilation combined with good passive solar design means Architopia's designs are light-filled and comfortable year-round.
"It's very rare to hear a first home buyer coming into the market and being able to afford an architecturally-designed home", explains Rob, and that's what Architopia are trying to change. "We're definitely not trying to undermine or undervalue architects", explains Leon. "If you can afford a full-service architect, we really encourage you to go and seek them out, because you'll generally get fantastic results. But the reality is, unfortunately, most Australians can't afford an architect. So that's where Architopia fits in."
Way back in the '50s and '60s, there were a group of architects doing a similar thing. They offered architect-designed house plans, building drawings and specification to the people of Melbourne. Known as the Small Homes Service, it was supported by the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and The Age. At one point it's estimated 40 percent of new homes in Melbourne were being built through the Small Homes Service and many of those homes still exist today. They're celebrated for their space-efficient designs, flexible spaces and the way they embrace natural light and garden views. Back then, the Small Home Service's aim was to provide well-designed houses more affordably. Architopia wants to bring that possibility back.
The trio started out by running an extensive survey of people interested in building a home. The survey aimed to determine what families wanted in their homes. What are the must-haves and nice-to-haves? This helped them develop their designs to fulfil the needs of everyday Aussies. This is in stark contrast to the volume builder model where they dictate what you should have by developing bloated plans that oversell and underdeliver. A key finding from their research? Sustainability is at the top of almost everyone's list and it's something the volume builders simply aren't tackling beyond government-mandated benchmarks.
Sustainable features like rooftop solar are cost-effective, yet reduce long-term energy use and running costs.
"A key component to Architopia is sustainability", explains Leon. "It's about striking a balance between materials that are sustainable but still affordable and available Australia wide. And it's the same with the core design. So making sure passive solar principles are incorporated, and incorporating active sustainability features that are really affordable and accessible. There are a lot of Australians don't know that it's actually really affordable to add sustainable features: encouraging all-electric homes with induction cooktops and heat pump hot water systems in combination with rooftop solar, these very simple features are incredibly effective and can have a dramatic positive impact on the environment", says Leon.
L-Shape House is a compact three-bedroom home which opens up to north light and a beautiful outdoor entertaining area. Study nooks and a window seat are tucked into the corridor to make the most of space.
Of course, building costs vary, but Architopia say their designs are comparable to the cost of building a standard volume built home. So how do Architopia ensure their designs are affordable to build? "Architects are great at coming up with creative solutions to constraints", explains Leon. "And the budget is one of the biggest constraints. So let's be really creative with that. We've tried to just focus on the design elements that are important and then cut away anything unnecessary."
"The first thing is being really efficient with the use of space. So encouraging things like European laundries instead of full-size laundries, that can still be really practical and functional, but it reduces the size of the house, which then reduces the cost", says Leon. "It's about reducing the footprint to a size that is more affordable to build. We're not by any means creating tiny homes", explains Rob, in fact, Architopia designs "can suit a family of three or four comfortably and still provide a lot of the features of a full-size volume built home."
Affordable and locally available materials are used to keep the costs down and improve the sustainability of the design.
"The secret is being "clever with the layouts, reducing the overall size, making sure that areas such as bathrooms and wet areas are grouped as much as possible and... really trying to get rid of any sort of dead space", explains Sophie. "Clean rooflines, standard size windows and doors and we've recommended products in our specification that are easily available Australia-wide or can be substituted for locally available products", says Rob. Another key factor is using "standard, or traditional Australian construction techniques... That's one way that we can bring the cost down", adds Leon.
Offset House deals with a challenging north-facing street frontage by angling the living areas to create privacy while still soaking up the sun.
Buying an Architopia design gives you access to everything you need to get building. For a once-off, flat fee, you get a full set of drawings, details on the sustainability features and photos/3D images of the design to help you visualise the look and feel. In fact, Architopia premium packages are ready to take to a builder for pricing. The package comes with product and material schedules so you can get started straight away, alternatively, you can incorporate products and materials of your own choosing to really customise your home. And if you want some modifications, maybe you need an extra room or you need to shift a wall or four, you even get the computer files a local draftsperson needs to make the changes.
If the Australian Dream was to own your own home, the New Australian Dream is to own a well-designed home that doesn't cost the earth, either financially or environmentally, to build or run. A home that feels effortless to live in because it embraces the climate through passive solar design principles and supports your lifestyle. Is that too much to ask? Architopia doesn't think so.
If you're planning to build and you're considering a volume builder, or design and construct option, take a look at Architopia's options. They've launched with three incredible designs including the Offset House we recently featured and new designs will be added over the coming months.
Architopia has kindly offered Lunchbox Architect readers a 5 percent discount, all you have to do is enter the code T2P0KP965V9T at checkout.