Australia — Black Saturday bushfire victims have sought out an architect whose house designs may help them live in Australia’s natural environments.
Three families who survived the devastation which claimed 173 lives on February 7 have consulted Dr Ian Weir in the design of their replacement homes.
Dr Weir, 45, teaches landscape architecture at the Queensland University of Technology, but completed his PhD on the relationship between architecture and biodiversity at the University of Western Australia in 2007.
His research culminated in the design and construction of the Bushfire Smart House.
The modest, single-level house was completed in August 2008 in the bushfire prone area of Bremer Bay, on WA’s southeast coast, costing no more than a standard home.
“I wanted to see if I could develop a way of getting closer proximity between the residents of this house and that amazing vegetation,” Dr Weir told AAP.
“I of course had to look at ameliorating the effects of bushfires because it’s an incredibly flammable place.”
Features include fire-rated aluminium roller shutters on most windows, with fire retardant double glazing on others.
It has a 90,000 litre rainwater tank and solar-operated pump so occupants always have a water supply during a bushfire.
There are automatic sprinkler systems on its wooden decks but the home doesn’t include a ceiling cavity.
Dr Weir said most embers which ignite homes during bushfires were sucked in through the cavity.
He also didn’t include a fire bunker, saying the cost was exorbitant for standard homes.
“A laundry-bathroom area is already a high-specification area and adds to it being a protector of human life from radiant heat in a fire,” Dr Weir said.
The design was based on past bushfire events around Bremer Bay, which lasted three to five minutes before moving on and did not result in houses catching fire.
But Dr Weir said designs for homes destroyed on Black Saturday in Victoria would be enhanced.
“In theory or in practice it’s not that difficult to create a two-hour fire compartment within your house that has a direct egress to the outside world,” he said.
He is working on a house in Murrindindi, has designed a home at Steels Creek and is consulting on one in Wandong – areas all ravaged by the February fires.
“All of them said they weren’t interested at all in this idea of staying with the house in the event of the fire,” Dr Weir said.
He said they were more interested in building a cost-effective home “that would be likely to sustain itself without any human intervention in a fire, so they could be elsewhere”.