Australia’s climate calls for careful and in-depth thought towards the positioning of wall surfaces and, in particular, the location of openings in relation to the sun and breezes. Doing this not only improves comfort levels but also reduces reliance on artificial means of temperature control. External screens have long been acknowledged for their aesthetic value and ability to maintain cool interior conditions.
Many of CODA’s architectural projects have included screening devices, and many of our urban design projects have discussed their practical application. The MG/GT Administration Building located in Kununurra and the Building for Diversity project in Northbridge both use screens to manage sun orientation as well as to enhance the visual quality of the built form. CODA referenced the historical use and positive application of screens in Broome throughout the Housing Design Guidelines recently prepared for the town.
The Kimberley region of Western Australia is characterised by extreme wet and dry seasons and a pervading warm, humidity for much of the year. Here, comfort relies heavily on shading from the hot sun as well as the ability to draw cooling breezes into interior spaces. A number of studies have been conducted in Broome outlining the means by which buildings can be designed to sustainably respond to the Kimberley climate. Cultural and historical precedents reveal the key built elements that have stood the test of time as effective means to work with typically hot temperatures. To an extent the harshness of the sub-tropical conditions shaped the built environment long before air-conditioning was an easy solution for cooling our buildings. The pearling industry that founded Broome brought with it a strong Asian influence and Japanese craftsmen introduced many innovative building techniques. This influence, in combination with direct responses to the climate, resulted in a unique ‘Broome Style’, which began to develop from the late 1800s, and can still be seen through portions of the town.
Many of the design principles that define ‘Broome Style’ buildings influence contemporary, sustainable architecture in general, for instance, the use of lightweight materials, wide verandahs and permeable external screening devices. Shutters and screens made of penetrable linings such as cheesecloth, canvas and lattice were typical to the exteriors of buildings in Broome, as were the use of louvers. These devises were particularly useful in Broome where the hot afternoon sun and cooling breeze come from the west, resulting in a need for a double skin that allows for airflow to permeate the buildings whilst shading the interior from the force of the sun. Operable screens are particularly useful in humid climates as they allow for maximized air movement. CODA’s research into Broome’s prevailing historical building techniques has significantly enhanced our work for the Broome Housing Guidelines. These guidelines suggest design outcomes that reference Broome’s established character and architectural language. They encourage climate responsive designs that learn from the proven historical built dialogue.
The MG/GT Administration Building in Kununurra uses the idea of a permeable second skin as a means to effectively separate the building fabric from the harsh effects of the sun. This building, which functions as an administrative and community facility for the Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation and the Gelganyem Trust, features a plan that is open to both the environment and the community. The vibrant green screen that wraps around the front façade is constructed from vertically aligned painted steel angles and provides visual cohesiveness to the two volumes of the building. Most significantly, the screen provides shading to the non air-conditioned spaces often used for meetings outside of the offices, establishing comfortable and useable external spaces throughout the day. An additional benefit of the screen is that it has worked in conjunction with careful interior planning to reduce the overall running costs of the building. The screen has also enhanced the civic presence of the building, allowing it to glow like a beacon within Kununurra, particularly when lit from behind during the night.
Much like MG/GT, the affordable housing project, Building for Diversity, responds to orientation and the desire for an environmentally responsive building through both its planning and exterior treatment. This project challenged existing height restrictions of the site, forming a tower that allows for maximum use of the space whilst providing access to northern sunlight in all habitable rooms. A perforated anodized steel screen wraps around the building to provide shade and reduce heat load in the interior, whilst instilling moments of delight internally through the play of light and shadow. The screens, designed in collaboration with artist Olga Cironis, dress the exterior of the building and act as a beautiful binding element throughout the building.
CODA’s use of screening devices is a genuine response to the factors of climate and environment. At the same time CODA incorporates screening elements into their urban and built work as a means to inject moments of playfulness, beauty and, in the case of Broome, attempt to instill cultural relevance within new builds. In highlighting the practical and visual qualities that screens provide and taking particular interest in the fact that climatically, these are elements that have successfully been used throughout history, today they stand as tools for a sustainable level of architecture that seeks to eliminate the reliance on artificial cooling devices in hot climates.