Consequently, when a promising development site became available, Oliver saw an opportunity to bring the ‘joy of architectural consideration’ to an apartment context with Passive House. Steele Associates, which began in 2002 and offers the full spectrum of building services – development, design and construction – was behind every aspect of The Fern, from concept to completion. ‘There were countless hours of research and consultation with our Passive House consultants, going back to first principles about every single design decision,’ he explains. ‘Often we designed what we thought would be the best outcome from scratch.’
Building to Passive House is a scientific approach that relies on five fundamentals to reduce energy consumption and improve the quality of internal environments, including good insulation, high-performance glazing, airtightness, mechanical heat recovery ventilation and eliminating thermal bridges. For the 11 industrial-chic styled one-bedroom apartments, Oliver carefully chose building materials that would provide optimum results as well as up-market enjoyment for its future occupants.
Externally, the building stands out with its white, corrugated facade (a type of magnesium oxide cladding board) in keeping with the suburb’s industrialised heritage, punctuated by triple-glazed, aluminium-clad timber-framed windows and doors. Their European-style ‘tilt-and-turn’ and ‘lift-and-slide’ functionality provides excellent air sealing and noise barriers, but can be thrown open wide for the indoor-outdoor vibe. Most importantly, three panes of glass separated with sealed, argon-filled gaps, keep the interiors warm in winter, and the double low-emissivity coating keeps the summer heat out.
But given Passive House creates a well-sealed interior through an airtight building envelope (‘so well-sealed it’d be unlivable without good ventilation,’ Oliver says), heat recovery ventilation is a necessary inclusion in the building’s make-up. It works via a heat exchanger to provide fresh, filtered air from outside at a comfortable temperature and at a fraction of the energy consumed by airconditioning.
The building also contains roughly double the amount of insulation typically included in medium-density developments, installed as a continuous barrier rather than between structural elements, helping to eliminate thermal bridges. Much of this is located externally inside custom-made structurally insulated panels (SIPs), which Oliver says also eliminate thermal bridges.
Internally, FSC-certified herringbone French Oak parquet floors and Carrara marble in the kitchens and bathrooms offer a high-quality touch throughout. The kitchens also feature walnut fronted cabinets and integrated appliances for an up-scale and seamless look, while exposed concrete walls provide not only a distinctive feature, but structural strength and thermal mass: ‘I always use maximum recycled content of concrete to reduce carbon emissions. Concrete was the obvious choice of material for a multi-storey dwelling and gave us the lovely walls [internally].’