Thais Pupio uses rammed earth to design a dwelling in Byron Bay, Australia

The Brazilian architect builds Rammed Earth Retreat with a low-tech design approach, turns a house from 1980s into an environmentally responsive and visually appealing place.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : May 20, 2020

Byron Bay is a small coastal town in the southeastern Australian state of New South Wales and building a house in a location such as this brings much respect for the natural surround that it is set in. Thais Pupio, a Brazilian architect who set up her own practice Thais Pupio Design in Byron Bay more than a decade ago, recently built a two-bedroom house for guests and was approached by the clients because of her environmentally responsive residential projects both in Brazil and Australia

  • Rammed earth used in the construction of the house to make it low impact and environment-friendly | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Rammed earth used in the construction of the house to make it low impact and environment-friendly Image Credit: Michael Nicholson
  • Kitchen area in the Rammed Earth Retreat | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Kitchen area in the Rammed Earth Retreat Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

The clients wanted the house to be designed as a retreat with privacy and comfort for their friends and family. Pupio says, “The brief was very simple; to have a low-maintenance house with easy movement, something that was practical, designed to entertain, with a tropical and natural feeling, without being too rustic or beachy. Something modern but warm”.

  • The house connects with the existing surrounding natural landscape | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    The house connects with the existing surrounding natural landscape Image Credit: Michael Nicholson
  • Shower area with an open feel | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Shower area with an open feel Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

A house built in the 1980s was demolished to make way for the new one, and it required major transformation. And since the architect did not want the new home to be a misfit in the existing surroundings, she connected it to the landscape without imposing on it. This resulted in the new two-bedroom house being surrounded by lush greens and a lavish garden.

  • Bedrooms and bathroom integrated as one | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Bedrooms and bathroom integrated as one Image Credit: Michael Nicholson
  • Rammed earth is fire-proof, making it an apt choice for the site that abuts a national park where bushfires are a concern | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Rammed earth is fire-proof, making it an apt choice for the site that abuts a national park where bushfires are a concern Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

To keep the house environmentally sustainable and visually warm, the architect intricately chose materials that are eco-friendly and a colour palette that is soothing to the eyes. “In all my projects, I strive to stick to a small pallet of raw materials that would age gracefully and harmoniously with a low environment impact. So, we chose rammed earth, recycle timber and copper as our main pallet,” mentions Pupio. Rammed earth construction was decided on unanimity; both the clients as well as the designer were convinced about its look and feel and it serving all the requirements.

Environment-friendly architecture creating cross-ventilation and natural light | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
Environment-friendly architecture creating cross-ventilation and natural light Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

Rammed earth has enormous benefits - low thermal mass factor, low environmental influence, free of maintenance (as it was not painted), fire proof, load bearing, pest proof, noise proof and is also visually appealing. The rear of the property abuts a national park and bushfires are a concern, hence a fireproof material such as this became the logical choice.

  • Plan of the Rammed Earth Retreat designed by Thais Pupio Design in Byron Bay, Australia | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Plan of the Rammed Earth Retreat designed by Thais Pupio Design in Byron Bay, Australia Image Credit: Michael Nicholson
  • Section of the Rammed Earth Retreat designed by Thais Pupio Design in Byron Bay | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Section of the Rammed Earth Retreat designed by Thais Pupio Design in Byron Bay Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

“Longevity, passive forms of climate control and nature were our considerations and those dictated a lot of the aspects of the design,” adds Pupio. The material for the rammed earth was sourced from a nearby quarry while the wood for the doors and windows was recycled. Various elements were incorporated to protect the house from the heavy rains in the region; raised footing, small amount of cement, non-toxic sealer, sufficient drainage around the wall, flashing around windows and large eaves. Furthermore, the flashing around timber and rammed earth were made in copper. Due to the type of rammed earth construction, the 300mm – 400mm thick walls breathe, providing a good balance on the internal micro climate of the house, and there’s no requirement for air conditioning.

  • A subtle and modern feel has been rendered to the house | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    A subtle and modern feel has been rendered to the house Image Credit: Michael Nicholson
  • Bedroom in the Rammed Earth Retreat with louvred windows that allows cross-ventilation | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Bedroom in the Rammed Earth Retreat with louvred windows that allow cross-ventilation Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

The eco-friendly design and sustainable architecture took into account the textures, materials, lights, views and the interaction with the outdoors as the primary elements for creating an impactful experience for the users. “My design process considers how the spaces will touch the senses. I design for people, for their feelings, for them to be held into the space, for them to enjoy the experiences from its atmosphere, how it will be inhabited and the memories it will create,” says Pupio.

  • Entry porch of the house | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Entry porch of the house Image Credit: Michael Nicholson
  • Kitchen window ensuring a strong connection with the outdoors | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Kitchen window ensuring a strong connection with the outdoors Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

With a central entry into the main living area, the bedrooms have been positioned on the sides to guarantee privacy to the guests. As per the client’s needs, the bathrooms were kept door-less to give them an open feel, while the toilets stay out of the view. The high pivot doors clad in copper became much like an art piece contrasting with the rammed earth walls. The kitchen has been connected with the outside through a breakfast bench. Cross ventilation was facilitated with high louvers and the openness created due to the layout helps keep the main areas airy, while simultaneously flooding the space with natural light throughout.

  • Bay window using the wall length of the house | Rammed Earth Retreat | Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Bay window using the wall length of the house Image Credit: Michael Nicholson
  • Kitchen area with an island bench | Rammed Earth Retreat house| Thais Pupio Design | STIRworld
    Kitchen area with an island bench Image Credit: Michael Nicholson

“I strongly believe in the timeless use and effect of raw and natural materials and I try to incorporate them in an elegant and passive low-tech method in my projects. There is a beauty in the imperfections of rammed earth, and if I can also help to reduce carbon footprint within the building industry, we are definitely winning,” shares Pupio.

Project Details

Name: Rammed Earth Retreat
Location: 44, Shelley Drive, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia, 2481
Area: 124sqm
Time taken from conception to construction: 1.5 years
Architects: Thais Pupio Design
Design: Thais Pupio
Year: 2017
Client: Couple with three grown up children
Building Consultant: Heanes Built
Rammed Earth Consultant: Rammed Earth National
Lightning Consultant: Kreon
Ceramic Pendants: Natalie Page Studio, Philadelphia
Wall lamps and powder room pendant: Creative Lighting Solutions, Byron Bay
Black Concrete sink (powder room): Slabshapers
Tiles: Artedomus
Cabinetry: Executed by PCS cabinets (Murwillumbah, NSW)
Tapware: Broadware
Sculptures on wall: Local artist Zimmi from Weaving Nature

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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