Project: Biophilia – Slate House Northcote

Winner Best Environmentally Sustainable
  • Biophilia – a deep connection with nature to benefit the occupants health and well-being was core to the design concept
  • This house was designed to maximise passive heating and to reduce the heating demand to nearly zero, with large areas of glazing, high levels of insulation, dark colours and thermal mass
A sleek sustainable family home combines passive design, energy efficiency, innovative technology, sustainable materials and addresses wider sustainability issues such as occupant’s health and wellbeing, biodiversity and stormwater management in an holistic sustainability approach.

”Biophilia - Slate House Northcote” is a family-home built on the principles of nature, craftsmanship and environmental design. It interacts and engages with nature, the essence of Biophilic design.

Below the strong monolithic slate form, a simple ground floor plan interweaves with nature, meandering out and in, carving two courtyards, at once grounding the house in the garden and drawing the garden back into the house. The building invites the adjacent park into the garden, borrowing natural vistas and extending the backyard, whilst embracing its wider contextual surroundings. Urban food production, green roofs and integrated planters create additional intimate connections with nature.

The client brief was about creating connections, while delivering healthy and sustainable living, plus good flow of spaces and street integration. Discussing the need to create healthy and sustainable living in the briefing process led Melbourne Design Studio to Biophilic design.

The home is set on a typical inner suburban block. The generous land size allows for the interweaving floor plan. Initial streetscape studies led to the strong vernacular roof form: standing out without dominating the street. At the back, the house form fragments, inviting and embracing the neigbouring parklands.

Each ground floor space connects with outdoor spaces for daily activities, e.g. the playroom opens towards a ‘play yard’. Upstairs, the master bedroom allows ‘living in the treetops’ and extends to an external green roof terrace, a rare opportunity in an inner city setting.

Natural light, ventilation and direct sunlight give a profound sense of diurnal and seasonal rhythms.

While the north garden and adjacent parklands were identified as an opportunity early on, the north-south running orientation at the same time presented the challenge of limited access to north light along the length of the land. Another challenge was how to create a contemporary home that would stand strong and proud as a highlight of modern building design, while at the same time respecting the neighbourhood and drawing inspiration from it.

Courtyards play a key role in the design allowing direct north sun deeper into the plan and also promoting excellent natural ventilation. Direct (and controllable) sunlight in each space, an abundance of natural light – often from more than one aspect – provide comfortable and enjoyable spaces to inhabit.

To facilitate easier construction, the original basement was deleted from the design, thereby reducing the risk of rocks and floaters found on site. The additional building mass was incorporated seamlessly into the floor plan.

Meticulous detailing, natural materials and imaginative design of spaces and joinery create multi-use, flexible spaces that bring joy and delight to the occupants.

The internal courtyard which flows through to the interior space is a spectacular example of what hard work and consideration can achieve. Three different colours of LaPaloma bricks are laid down in a pattern inspired by dappled shadows created by trees to further accentuate the biophilic concept. Second-hand red bricks on the external walls and around the pool complement the contemporary courtyard.

Slate used on the walls and roof work in harmony with other masonry elements to create a balanced and considered home. Biophilia Slate House demonstrates how an age old traditional material can be used in a contemporary way.

The strong vernacular form upstairs, created by traditional slate cladding, ties the house beautifully into the streetscape. Seamlessly integrated sustainable principles and technology such as a large solar PV array forms part of the architecture.

Sustainability considerations

A holistic sustainability concept was adopted early and integrated seamlessly into the design including passive solar design, high insulation, courtyards for deep solar access and ventilation, solar PV, innovative heating/cooling strategy, fixed and operable shading. These design features all contribute to the energy efficiency concept.

In summer the subsequent cooling demand is addressed with efficient air conditioning powered by a large solar PV array, cooling the home using 100% renewable energy. The PV system is designed to be so efficient that the excess energy generated cools the slab by heat pump technology, effectively turning the slab into a battery for renewable energy storage.

Sustainable materials – include reused, sustainably sourced, natural and low-voc materials.

Green roofs and planters mitigate the urban heat island effect, reduce stormwater, and aid biodiversity.

Home automation and efficient technology were integral to the overall sustainability concept for example an alarm is raised when switching on the air conditioning when a window is open.


Designer:                              Melbourne Design Studios (MDS)


 Builder:                                Melbourne Homes of Distinction

 Structural Engineer:       John Brock Consulting

 Building Surveyor:          Metro Building Surveyors

 Energy Rater:                    Melbourne Design Studios (MDS)

Photographer:                   Peter Clarke Photography


Radial Timber Sales


La Paloma, Austral Bricks

Custom Polished Concrete Mix

Livos Australia


Sanitaryware & Tabs, Rogerseller, Reece, ACS Bathrooms

Miele, Fisher & Paykel, Electrolux

Ilan El Lighting Design

Designer Doorware

The family home as a built outcome inspires, relaxes and calms busy minds, with beautifully crafted spaces, natural materials and endless dialogue with nature. The building as a complete package is much more than the sum of its parts with nature, craftsmanship and environmental sustainability key to the success of this design.
Melbourne Design Studios Biophilia - Slate House Northcote
Biophilia – Slate House
Biophilia – Slate House