Australia — With bushfire season fast approaching, last month CSIRO announced the construction of the first bushfire resistant straw bale house in rural Victoria.
The idea, developed by sustainable designer Joost Bakker, challenges traditional construction methods and materials. The structure includes straw bale insulation set into a recycled steel frame with magnesium oxide cladding.
Now comes Xanthorrhoea 1, a multi-functional display building in Queensland that was designed by Cox Architects managing director David Cox as part of a research project. The building was seven years in the making.
The research study found there was no construction system available that could withstand the full effects of Australian bush fires, and, to overcome the problem, a new system was developed. The system of constructing the building envelope was, in fact, patented prior to the devastating Victorian bush fires of February 2009, and construction had commenced by then.
The building is constructed from inert materials which make it resistant to fire and designed to provide shelter during other natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. The structural methods could work for many different building types from civic buildings such as schools and police stations to residential dwellings.
Every year houses are burnt out and people re-built in the same way which is dangerous as well as a gross waste of resources, Cox said. I was convinced you could build in a fire zone and this structure has proven you can..
He noted that the building system incorporates composite materials, which help it achieve a new, never-before-attained level of resistance to fires and other elements.
The building is designed so it can be locked down and is thermally efficient so there is the comfort of knowing occupants will be sustained in cyclones and fires, he said.
A unique feature of the system is the integration of its roof and walls. Rather than fixing the insulation under the roof, the system forms a structural fire-insulating shell, wrapping the entire building in a protective layer. Being integrated with the walls makes the roof far stronger than in standard building practice.
Additional benefits include very low maintenance, high thermal insulation, very high durability and security, all of which enhance suitability for remote areas. The combined effects also reduce energy consumption.
While the new design is more expensive to build than a standard house, Cox said the building would pay off over time through its longevity and durability.
The prototype and the project demonstrate that you can build responsibly in areas prone to bush fires, and build assets rather than liabilities, he said Cox.
The practice has received two 2012 International Green Dot awards for Sustainability Concept and Sustainability in Building.
The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.