Alexander Symes founded his practice in 2014 with a mission to advance sustainable architecture, and change the way we use resources to contribute to a sustainable future. One of his most notable projects, the Upside Down Akubra House is widely revered for its combination of form, innovative material usage, and engagement with its surrounding environment.

The client requested a tricky combination of passive solar house, 360 degree views of the surrounds, and excellent water capture. This was where the idea of the inverted akubra came into play. “The station manager was wearing an Akubra. And I said, we're going to take this Akubra, flip it upside down to capture all the water and be able to achieve these 360 degree views, not by necessarily using glass everywhere, but by focusing the views and the window to wall ratio at each orientation.” explains Alex.

Efficiently using architectural form to sustainably control heat capture within a residence is something Alex learned about while studying in Europe. “I started to understand their systems approach of higher thermal efficiency design and general heat transportation systems. When I came back to Australia, I noticed a stark difference. And I thought, ‘we're not doing things smartly here.’”

Symes builds as closely to the certified German passivhaus standard as possible - aiming to keep internal residence temperatures between 20-25 degrees year round with minimal heating and cooling requirements. This is done through close attention to thermal bridging and ensuring airtightness in the building envelope.

But Symes’ residential sustainability practice doesn’t focus only on heat. Water management is an essential part of his designs. “I think where possible, we should be able to capture, store and reuse as much water as possible on site. But before doing that, though, you need to look at the efficiency of all your appliances and taps. So in terms of a hierarchy, it’s efficiency, then it’s capture capacity, and then reuse.”

The focus on water capture also extends more broadly to the geographical realities of life in Australia. “In our country, we have quite consistent rainfall to the surface area of our dwellings. But there are opportunities at more of a macro scale for collecting stormwater and recycling and reuse of that, as opposed to our current processes, which is just letting it all go out to the oceans.”

With big plans for the future, Symes is looking forward to spending the short and mid term focusing on developing his sustainability clout. “I want to focus on being the best architect traditionally that I possibly can, and really concentrate on getting a good sort of solid five years of passive houses under my belt. And then hopefully, after that five years, I will go back more into the scalable design of how sustainability can be more affordable and for everyone, as opposed to individual commissions because that’s really where my heart lies.”

This article is a short summary of the Talking Architecture & Design Podcast episode 64. Listen to the full Podcast Episode here.

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