2012 Melbourne Design Awards

Key Dates

The MDS PassivHaus : Comtemporary Living in an Energy-Positive 10 Star Home



Project Overview

No more energy bills - how would you like that?
This contemporary family home is designed to be energy positive, i.e. over the course of a year it generates more energy than it would use. Building an energy positive house means you can start billing your energy supplier, rather than the other way around. Isn’t that fantastic?

So how does that work?
Mostly good design based on passive solar design principles, and some clever tricks added into the mix. The foundations are simple : (1) Create a comfortable living environment, that uses little energy to heat or cool, and (2) Create energy to offset the little bit that you are using, or for positive gearing.
Living spaces and bedrooms are facing north, using free and everlasting solar heat to make it nice and cosy. A services and amenities ‘block’ along the south side acts as thermal buffer. Almost following modernist traditions, these two distinct functions (living and services) generate the architectural form.

Balancing social, economic and environmental sustainability has been the driver for the design. Combined with the contemporary form and simple material palette, this results in a beautiful and truly sustainable home.


Melbourne Design Studios


Luke Perry, Marc Bernstein-Hussmann, Danyelle Miller, Felicity Bernstein. Renders by Ian Porter. NatHERS rating by Marc Bernstein-Hussmann / ESD @ Melbourne Design Studios.

Project Brief

Inspired by a design competition, ‘The 10 Star Challenge’, we set out to exceed the requirements of the NatHERS 10 Star rating. The aim was to create an energy-positive family home in suburban Melbourne, guided by European Passiv Haus standards. We (Melbourne Design Studios) have won first prize in the competition with this 10 Star rated home.

Just to explain : 10 Star rating under NatHERS refers to a house that uses very little or no energy to condition its volume. For Melbourne climate and based on average values, that means an area adjusted energy usage of max 2 MJ/m2 to heat and cool the place.

Project Need

Our approach is simple : build smaller - build better. A compact, space efficient design with the ideal orientation means that we can build to a much higher specification for the same dollar amount. Less is more, and clever layout warrants that you are not missing out on space.

A high performance building envelope, efficient conditioning systems and renewable technologies combine to create the energy positive home. This means no utility bills for the occupants of the dwelling - the way all future houses should be designed.

Design Challenge

A core belief in our work is to balance all aspects of sustainability with the architectural quality of a space. Massive reduction of glazing just to improve the energy rating of a building is not the right approach : We believe a liveable and loveable home wants to be bright and friendly, using large windows, capturing light and shadows, and warming us on a cold winter’s day. The challenge arises in placing and detailing those windows well, while offsetting their summer heat gains. Following passive solar design principles, the living spaces and bedrooms in the house harness heat from the sun in winter and exclude it in summer. Thermal mass. a high performance building envelope, adjustable sunshading and cross-ventilation ensure that little energy is required to maintain a comfortable internal living environment.

Commissioner’s comments / What the competition jury thought :
“Melbourne Design Studio's holistic approach to sustainable design, their attention to detail and function, and the house's clean and contemporary look impressed the judges. Melbourne Design Studio has designed a contemporary house with interesting street appeal… Social sustainability has also been incorporated thoughtfully into the design, with a mix of communal and private indoor and outdoor living spaces. Water saving measures minimise mains water usage … Traditional building materials were specified for the build with detailed specification of sustainable and low-toxic materials … Despite its small footprint of just 145 square metres, the space-efficient design doesn't compromise on functionality and caters to everyday living”


Research shows that averaging at 215 sqm, Australian house sizes are among the largest in the world. With clever design and flexible spaces, we have been able to develop this house to be a third smaller than the average home, whilst still providing the same generous room sizes that Australians have become accustomed to. Obviously building smaller means using less resources, creating less land surface sealing, less landfill etc.

Another key factor is the compactness of the design, reflected in the proportion of the volume. We have been able to bring this down to 0.75, close to British recommendations for a PassivHaus.

Like all our projects, the architecture is based on passive solar design principles : Lots of glass capturing the northern winter sun, with big eaves and adjustable louvres shading the hotter summer sun, and fewer and smaller openings to east, west and south. Using triple glazing, partly with additional low e-coating, adding high insulation, exposed concrete floors as thermal mass, harvesting rainwater and greywater - we have actually designed a little ‘raingarden’ into the roof, allowing the stormwater runoff to be cleaned and filtered - all make it a very ‘green design’.

Active ESD systems like Solar Hot Water, GeoThermal and Photovoltaics are added on where meaningful, to take the house the last step, from energy neutral to energy positive.

This award recognises the design process and product of planning, designing and constructing form, space and ambience that reflect functional, technical, social, and aesthetic considerations. Consideration given for material selection, technology, light and shadow. The project can be a concept, tender or personal project, i.e. proposed space.
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