Takver's Initiatives. P.O. Box 1078, Brunswick M.D.C, Victoria, 3056, Australia

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Alternative Technology - Australian Autonomy

Community Technology An Autonomous House

At a time when it is becoming common knowledge that the sources of energy and materials which our society has taken for granted in the past are becoming rapidly exhausted, alternative technology, which is independent of finite resources, is becoming increasingly relevant to our future. Technology which has a 'soft' impact on the community's environment creates a constant flow of energy, as opposed to the existing 'hard' technology in which energy is used once and never recovered.

The idea of building an 'Autonomous House' using alternative technology came to a group of 2nd and 3rd year Architecture students at Sydney University in 1974. They sought an ecologically responsible alternative to conventionally powered and serviced houses, both because of the overall impact on the environment of the corporate forces (e.g. on Lake Pedder, urban creeks, etc.) and because of the ruthlessly profit-oriented organisations responsible (e.g. A.V.Jennings Homes).

The Autonomous House was to use only naturally powered energy systems and, ideally, demonstrate total self-sufficiency in all energy requirements. At the same time it aimed to provide a standard of living for five inhabitants (students) comparable to that of the ordinary community.

Design and work on the house was undertaken by seventeen students,, resulting in a rectangular shaped house with a large communal living area and kitchen at ground level, and separate sleeping quarters in a loft overhead. A north facing beer bottle wall is responsible for the heating and cooling of the house (the sun's heat is stored in old water-filled beer bottles and convection currents can be introduced to control the temperature). Doors and windows can be sealed to prevent heat loss and the house is equipped with fibreglass insulation, so that it is as thermally efficient as possible. Electricity for lighting and power is generated by a "Quirks" 12V/300W windmill and stored in batteries.

The floor of the house is made of rubble from a demolition site, the timber walls are built from scrap, the roof is old galvanised sheeting, and the floor of bricks comes from the driveway of a demolished timber factory.

A methane digestor is in use to convert human and organic wastes into a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, though a larger community system would be needed to produce enough methane gas for lighting and cooking. From just one house, too little waste is available to really get the system going. Rain water is gathered on the large roof area and stored in a tank for drinking and general use. A solar water heater is mounted on the northern side of the roof.

The Autonomous House is therefore built almost entirely from second hand materials, from what is normally treated as garbage. This ensured that construction consumed as little energy as possible - merely human energy and time.

Here are a few comments from individuals who have experienced building and living in the Autonomous House:

1. The Australian autonomous house surrounded by University buildings.


2. The greenhouse is an extension to the Trombe wall.

3. The main interior space is heated and cooled by the Trombe wall.

From Chain Reaction Vol 2 No 3, 1976.
Magazine published by Friends of the Earth (Australia)

Note:The original article for this chapter was reprinted from Architectural Design/1/77, however the second column of text was chopped off when the article was photocopied. I have substituted the Chain Reaction article in its place, which, I feel, is a better article on the Autonomous House.

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Last modified: February 20, 1999

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