Building Insider: Talking Sustainable Design principles with Sarah Bryant of Bryant Alsop Architecture & Interiors

29 January 2023
  by Fortem Projects

We recently partnered with Bryant Alsop on a luxury renovation in Hawthorn. The client initially engaged Bryant Alsop with the brief of introducing a two-storey contemporary addition with a pool and outdoor living spaces to their Victorian, heritage-listed 120-year-old dwelling.

With the project due for completion in 2023, we sat down with Sarah Bryant of Bryant Alsop to find out more about the approach behind the build and the importance of sustainability in home renovations.


Tell us a bit about Bryant Alsop Architects and the way you approach sustainable design, both generally and for this project?

I founded the practice in 2008, combining my experience in residential and commercial work with a sustainable approach.

We believe that every project we work on has a responsibility to minimise its energy input and output. We primarily achieve this through successful passive solar design, but explore many other considerations during the design process. Of course, these general principles are balanced with the specific site conditions and local climate, with the end aim of designing an efficient building that has reduced running costs and a greater level of comfort for all occupants.

The current home would have had very poor sustainable and environmental performance, so as architects, we had to figure out how to successfully meet the council needs of heritage compliance while also introducing a highly sustainable addition. On top of this, the rear of this block faces west with city views, so our challenge was to maximise the view and manage western sunlight. The key approach was to introduce Passive Design principles.

We (and the client) wanted the addition to look contemporary and be timeless, yet sit sympathetically within the period build. This encapsulates the Bryant Alsop approach in general: new works should feel new but not jar with the existing home and streetscape.


What are some sustainable design principles?

At the crux of it, good design is practical, thoughtful and beautiful. It serves a function to make life easier and more enjoyable, thereby elevating the way you live.

In this home, the block was orientated to the west. The new living areas, including the outdoor entertaining area and pool, all have a northern outlook. We installed a large canopy to the west for sun shading and protection, while maintaining the view. We installed external motorised lourve screens on west-facing dining and bedroom windows to allow for ventilation and airflow, maximised insulation, optimised glazing values, and applied FSC timber cladding on external walls of the new addition.


The other thing to note about this site is that it goes downhill to the west. As such, the new design is a terrace structure descending the slope, taking the surrounding environment into consideration.

Other design principles we introduced in this project include:

  • Optimum window shading to ensure that they are protected from the heat at important parts of the day
  • Good natural cross ventilation that allows you to empty the house of heat when necessary (also known as heat purging). This is especially important on first or second levels, where heat tends to get caught.
  • High levels of good-quality insulation to keep heat in in winter and the heat out in summer
  • High-performance glazing
  • Solar heating for both the interior and pool
  • High performance glazing
  • Electric charging ports for cars
  • Rainwater harvesting to recycle water
  • Timber cladding made from sustainably grown timber
  • Low-energy fixtures and fittings, including water-saving shower heads
  • Recycled demolition materials or re-used wherever possible
  • Prioritised green spaces and the connection to the outdoors through biophilic design
  • In-built planters around the pool for guaranteed greenery

At its core, sustainable design principles should both consider the materials and practices used, the life-cycle of the building, and prioritise how the building runs and operates, taking it consideration the energy required to maintain an optimally comfortable and efficient home. As architects, we go beyond the design, focusing on how we can take the home well into the future, while maximising its utilitarian, qualitative and aesthetic elements to ensure longevity and quality so that the building can be enjoyed and perform to it’s optimum over a extended period.


What are the main differences of sustainable vs standard construction?

There are many considerations when considering sustainable design. At heart it’s about being thoughtful and considered with each decision. We take a very site-specific approach, with each build tailored to the people, the place, the suburb and the environment. The home responds in a sustainable and considered way to the site. This is what design is – problem solving for the particular situation.


How does a sustainable design benefit a home in the long run?

A sustainable home isn’t just designed and built for the here and now – it also looks to the future. An environmentally friendly design should have a long lifespan, thereby avoiding landfill. It also has the potential to reduce ongoing running costs and increase the overall attractiveness of the property.


How do you collaborate with the builder, on these types of projects, to deliver the best result for your client?

When working with a builder who is attentive in their approach, they follow and pick up a design and they follow through with it. They don’t cut corners and faithfully uphold what the construction drawings dictate, including all specifications.

When collaborating with a good-quality builder like Fortem Projects, the quality of the build reflects and executes all intentions of the sustainable architecture to a high standard.


Why did you choose to partner with Fortem Projects to bring this project to life?

Most of our projects are tendered to three builders, with all drawings and written specs provided. Fortem Projects won on cost and their approach: they had a history of excellent-quality builds, completed projects on time and were well organised. They were also brilliant at working with the office team well as well as on site. People are important!

Collaboration is behind the success of every build – a strong relationship between builder, owner and architect delivers the best outcomes every single time. We saw that we could make this a reality with Fortem Projects. Every successful project begins and ends with a collaborative and trusting approach between owner, architect and builder and we have found this working with Fortem Projects.


What steps do you take when designing a sustainable home to stay within the client’s budget?

We see every home as having a degree of sustainability. Some clients are more into being green, but every project, we consider the basic principles of orientation, outlook and site conditions to ensure a lower input and output.

The first thing we always do is develop an understanding of the existing condition and the client’s brief. We take the time to listen to our client, finding out what they need and want and figuring out how we can tailor this.

I am firmly of the belief that good design shouldn’t cost any more and bigger is not necessarily better – whatever the brief, the resultant design needs to be well designed and considered.

We do find that sometimes, our clients can be resistant to investing in sustainable measures, but we aim to gently push the envelope so that every project is doing a little more than it would have done otherwise. Our role is often educating our clients as to what’s possible as they may be unfamiliar with the options available to them.

With renovations, additions and even knockdown rebuilds, we look to reuse as much as we can, which can work to both keep costs down and reduce the footprint of the home. There are often elements that can add such character and augment the history, while preserving the streetscape and character of the suburb.



If you’re planning to make your home more sustainable, we’d love to talk with you. Contact us to start the conversation.

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Building Insider: Talking Sustainable Design principles with Sarah Bryant of Bryant Alsop Architecture & Interiors
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Building Insider: Living Sustainably with Joost Bakker
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Guidelines for a Successful Building Project – Part II
Guidelines for a Successful Building Project – Part I
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