SkyFarm in Mullumbimby is a unique hemp and reclaimed-timber studio and is a carbon negative home. The studio was built in three months by the team from Balanced Earth.
SkyFarm in Mullumbimby is a unique hemp and reclaimed-timber studio and is a carbon negative home. The studio was built in three months by the team from Balanced Earth. Jonathan Miller

Design a house to win

NORTHERN Rivers architects, designers and people with clever ideas are being told to get their creative thinking caps on for the 2017 Sustainable House Day Design Competition.

The theme for this year's competition is 'Build it Local' and challenges entrants to build an urban structure using materials from our collective backyard in the Northern Rivers. 

Last year's People's Choice Award winner Michael Leung produced an excellent example of building local with SkyFarm, a rural studio he designed and built outside Mullumbimby. 

After losing Michael's father-in-law to asbestosis, both he and his wife wanted to build a "healthy, energetically balanced home” made of hemp, recycled timber and other non-toxic materials. 

As a result of the project, Michael met two builders who would become his business partners and they created the vision for his business Balanced Earth.

He said the Sustainable House Day Design Competition and Expo played an important role in helping his new venture get noticed. 

"I put 200 business cards out and they were gone in half an hour. It was incredible,” Mr Leung said. 

Event Coordinator Andia Cally said she was excited to see what local designers could create from local and recycled materials. 

"Most of us are familiar with the concept of food miles where our embodied energy footprint is reduced as a result of growing and transporting food locally, but embodied energy is often overlooked in the building sector,” Ms Cally said. 

"We are a region that is rich in local materials like bamboo, basalt, clay and camphor... (and) an abundance of recycled materials.”

The competition encourages entrants to build themselves or use local labour and recognises the issue of housing affordability in the region. 

"We believe this theme addresses environmental and social issues. Building locally will boost the region's economy and skillset. It will also highlight where the gaps are in terms of skills and materials and open the door for new industries, such as hemp production,” Ms Cally said. 

Mr Leung believes that building from our backyard goes hand in hand with creating healthier, more sustainable buildings. 

"Everyone talks about wanting to be sustainable but we're all living in houses filled with global products. I like the whole idea of embodied energy because as soon as you add globalisation to the discussion on building materials the embodied energy goes through the roof,” he said. 

The Balanced Earth designer plans to create a new 'sweat currency' around building with hemp called 'hemp credit'. 

"I want to create a local community labour pool where people gift their time and in return eventually people gift time to their projects,” he explained.

"Labour is such a huge part of building costs these days. We all think it is materials but the key is the labour. We're all building houses and things so let's exchange time and energy.” 

Entries for the 2017 Sustainable House Day Design Competition are open now until September 1.

The 2017 Sustainable House Day Expo will be held on Saturday, September 16 at Tweed Seagulls Club, where all entries from the design competition will be displayed. 

Visit for entry details.