Beating the heat - and rising energy prices - in a luxury property
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Beating the heat – and rising energy prices – in a luxury property

Temperatures can exceed 40C in Sydney’s west but everyone keeps their cool in this resort-style home

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Jan 18, 2023 12:06pmGrey Clock 4 min

 The owners of this property in Sydney’s outer west never set out to be environmentalists. And, at first glance, the sprawling luxury home they built at Twin Creeks at Luddenham does not appear to be eco friendly. But appearances can be deceiving.

When they approached building designer Luke Van Jour at Distinct Innovations, they wanted a resort-style home befitting the spacious greenfield location at the golf course estate. A large, wraparound pool would be at the centre of the design for the single level home, along with three entertaining areas, an outdoor cabana and home theatre. This would be in addition to four bedrooms, a guest room and a study.

With about 4,000sqm to work with, there was plenty of room to move so the owner decided to include a spacious home gym. He also wanted a half size tennis and basketball court to round out the leisure options – and to fulfil a childhood dream.

“The client had a tough upbringing,” Van Jour says. “When his parents were not around he used to go to the local basketball court to shoot hoops, so including a basketball court was about bringing back some of those positive childhood memories.”

With a healthy budget to work with, Van Jour was tasked with creating a resort-style experience, with a wet bar and water wall next to the outdoor kitchen, all in a single level design so that every day would feel like a holiday for the family.

“The client had spent a lot of time travelling the world,” he says. “When he came home, he wanted that same feeling that he experienced when he was staying in hotels and resorts overseas. Everything had to be wrapped around this pool.”

In keeping with the luxury theme, Van Jour specified several home automation options.

“It’s a key part of this house,” he says. “You can turn on the aircon, warm up the coffee machine, open the garage doors. It also has security and biometric systems.”

With all the hi tech, it might be easy to miss the lengths Van Jour has gone to in order to design a house which is a little easier on the environment – and the owners’ bank balance – than you might expect of a building this size.

“I designed the house to block as much sun in summer as I could and bring as much winter sun into the

house as possible,” he said. “The whole house was double glazed and full passive design. It is brick veneer on concrete slab-on-ground with stone floors to allow for optimum thermal mass.”

There’s also a 8kw system of photovoltaic cells to cut down on energy bills, and rainwater tanks that hold up to 100,000L for washing clothes, topping up the pool and watering the garden. 

“Without the solar panels, if this house had to run on standard electricity, it would easily be $7000 to $8000 a quarter but now it is about $2000 to $3000 a quarter,” Van Jour said.

However, it took a little while for the owners to get into the swing.

“When the clients first moved in, the bill for the first quarter was close to $10,000,” he said. “The owner asked me what was going on. 

“In Luddenham, it gets down to -2C in winter and up to 48C or 49C in summer but when I went over, he greeted me in shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of winter.”

As it transpired, all the thermostats had been set to 28C and both the reverse cycle air conditioning and the underfloor heating had been turned on. There were also four large screen TVs running 24/7 and the pool pump had malfunctioned so that it was running day and night when it should only operate four hours a day. After turning off the aircon completely (it was installed mainly for cooling the house in summer), resetting the temperature of the underfloor heating, fixing the pool pump and only using the TVs when there was someone in the room, the bill dropped almost 80 percent the next quarter.

The house took 18 months to build, which is relatively speedy for its size. Now, the family enjoys a resort lifestyle while reducing their bills – and their impact on the environment. When it runs well.

“We did all the right things but if the house is not operated properly, it’s a waste of time.”


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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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