SENIOR Coffs Coast architect Ann M Gee of g2 Architects has a special interest in designing adaptable homes.
This month that focus helped g2's Atrium Residence at Sapphire to win the HIA Northern NSW Home of the Year award for Coffs Coast builder Eric Horspool and his team.
Atrium Residence is also short-listed in the Australian Institute of Architects NSW Country Division awards, as is another very practical g2 design, a new amenities block at Macauleys Headland, designed and constructed for Coffs Harbour City Council.
The amenities block is now being replicated at other city locations.
The winners of the NSW Country Division Awards will be announced at the NSW Country Division Conference in Coffs Harbour from October 3-6.
While adaptable design allows for ageing in place, Ann said the beauty of approaching design this way was that it also catered for the next generation.
This is another special interest for g2 Architects, headed by Ann and her architect son Oliver Gee.
Ann has been working in Sawtell since moving from Sydney in 1979.
Her son Oliver joined her in the practice in 2004, when they changed the name to reflect their two-generation involvement.
"What we try to talk clients into is providing an accessible house," Ann said.
"Adaptable design is not about handrails and that stuff, it is trying to future-proof a house, with adaptable bathrooms and on-level access wherever possible.
"It's things like wider corridors and extra space in front of the toilet."
"These (houses) can adapt to ageing baby boomers and those who acquire a disability.
"These are basic principles for people in their 40s and 50s and for younger families as well, who need level access for children and prams."
In the prize-winning Atrium Residence, built for two young clients on a steep, narrow site, g2 has included two adaptable bedrooms, one also a studio and the other a media room, where beds can be folded away into the walls.
An internal lift, recommended by the architects in place of a dumbwaiter, provides access between the floors in addition to the sculptural conch shell-like staircase.
Two years ago, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment came on board with a new apartment design guide and a revised planning instrument, SEPP 65, which together provide guidance and regulation to improve the liveability and environmental and social performance of new units and which incorporate energy efficiency and water management.
Ann believes this 'carrot and stick' approach will eventually be applied to stand-alone housing.
She said the BASIX building rules had already created a whole lot of housing stock which was fully insulated, with north-facing windows.
Ann has been interested in passive building design since the 1970s and her university thesis was the invention of the Sunscope, an onsite tool which tracks the sun's arc.
She said a correctly designed and angled eave was the single simplest, cheapest and most effective feature of home design because of its year-round effect.
Ann also spoke about the importance of energy stored in houses in an address at the HIA Awards on September 1.
"The most energy-efficient house is the one that is already there," she said.
"Research by CSIRO has found that the average house contains about 1,000GJ of energy embodied in the materials used in its construction.
"This is equivalent to about 15 years of normal operational energy use.
For a house that lasts 100 years, this is over 10% of the energy used in its life."
Ann said about 40% of household energy was used for heating and cooling, which could be cut to zero with a sound, climate, responsive design.
Because at least half of all houses built today will be around in 50 years, she said it was also necessary to design for climate change, which included the possibility of cyclones moving further south, as well as the Coffs Coast's equable climate becoming less equable.
Ann said when she first began designing houses for clients, she often gave them thermally stable houses without telling them, but now she had expert clients who asked for energy efficiency as part of their brief.