In an age of bigger homes and smaller families, Sven Maxa of Maxa Design shares his ideas on building more sustainably.

At Maxa Design we often find ourselves confronted with a design brief containing numerous very specific requests. Clients might send us images of the latest designer kitchen or some external cladding that they like, coupled with the mandatory request for ‘lots of storage’, a big laundry and large living area. Then the request that my design team have been waiting for, and hoping it was first on our clients’ list: “we would like our home to be as sustainable as possible”. I like that – ‘As possible’.

Keeping it simple

Well, let’s look closely at how possible sustainability is and if it fits with the more common requests such as ‘a big laundry’. Sustainability in building and construction is such a large and diverse subject. I don’t think we could even scrape the surface in this article. So to help us move through concisely, let’s keep it really simple. In fact, I’ll keep it to just three letters ‘RRR’. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

The idea being that you reduce the quantity of everything you purchase or ‘consume’, and when you do consume something you reuse it, and if you can’t do that then ensure it can be recycled. Even better, if you can purchase or consume something that’s been recycled or reused then surely that will add at least another R to our acronym!

So how does this fit with bespoke architecture?


A smaller (i.e. reduced) footprint is always going to be more sustainable. What if we just had 1 bathroom instead of 2 or 3? What if we have a single garage or better still, no garage? I understand that for most people this sounds extreme, but before you dismiss it completely, consider the outcomes.

Everything reduces; smaller homes require fewer materials to construct, less energy to run and maintain, less water with fewer bathrooms and finally, the car is built to be outside – so I don’t think it will mind if it doesn’t have a garage. Not only will you be helping our environment, but you will also be helping your finances, as these suggestions also mean less money to spend on construction.


Now how about this – reuse as much as you can! If you’re renovating, there are some easy wins, with a little elbow grease I admit. Many materials can be reused, or as some might prefer to call it ‘down-cycled’. Heavy mass materials like bricks can be cleaned and reused; concrete can be crushed and reused instead of trucking in quarried rocks and gravels. I personally love old hardwood framing when it’s de-nailed and machined into a new bookshelf or cabinet. Whatever you can’t salvage and reuse in a renovation, send off to be recycled. There are several companies in the marketplace who are more than happy to take the materials that you no longer have a use for and save it from going to land fill. I think in 2009 our landfill comprised approximately 40% waste from building and construction – so anything you can do to reduce that would be brilliant!


If you don’t have any materials to reuse, then purchase recycled materials – keep the history of another old building alive! It only takes a little imagination and a little extra ‘elbow grease’ to use recycled building materials. A word of caution – if you’re considering using recycled windows be sure that you can retrofit or upgrade them to improve their thermal performance.

When it comes down to it, during the building and renovating process, we are confronted with so many decisions and enticed by many new building products touting their green credentials, that it becomes overwhelming and confusing. But if you keep it simple and use the three R’s to guide you, it will no doubt result in a much more sustainable project.

Sven Maxa is the head designer and owner of Maxa Design Pty Ltd, award winning building designers specialising in designing innovative, energy efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared at

All images: Chris Neylon

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