16/12/2016 8:47 AM AEDT | Updated 16/12/2016 10:38 AM AEDT

How Sustainable Design Can Work With Australia's Climate

And make better houses more affordable.

Concrete floors, shading devices and plenty of solar access.

When facing increasing pressures of housing density, affordability and sustainability, leading architects and designers look to the climate -- and working with it.

It's called passive design.

"As cities become denser and people are living more closely together, the importance of good design -- that has an open and interactive relationship with the climate -- is even more critical," Sydney architect Caroline Pidcock told The Huffington Post Australia.

I think we can all live good lives in smaller, efficient buildings. If they are well-designed, they will borrow from the outside space, and that will be enough.

Known for pioneering sustainable architecture in Australia for the past twenty years, Pidcock labels passive design the most important tool in any architect's kit.

"It is a very old concept of designing your building to understand and work with the climate, the orientation and the location that it is based in," Pidcock said.

"By working cleverly with that, you can create beautiful spaces with enormous amounts of natural comfort. For me, that is a good aim -- and it can be achieved for little to no cost."

On working with climate, not against it

According to Pidcock, understanding the location of a building and the associated weather conditions throughout the year can influence its form and volume.

It's all about having flexible strategies in place to deal with changing temperatures, winds and conditions.

In Australia, each of our main climate zones will have a set of climatic characteristics that will determine their own design response.

As a general rule: "You need to be able to design a building that allows you to open up and ventilate in the warmer months -- or close right down if needed! Conversely in winter, you want to make sure you are getting enough sunlight and that it is able to be retained to keep you warm," Pidcock said.

"It's about having flexible strategies in place to deal with changing temperatures, winds and conditions."

Living rooms are placed to the north and service zones to the south.

On how to get there

Sustainable passive design begins from inception.

1. Work with the sun

Capture it in winter and keep it out in summer.

According to Pidcock, step one involves orienting a building to optimise solar benefits.

"Capture the sun in winter and keep it out in summer," Pidcock said.

"In Australia, we want buildings to face north -- that's where the sun comes from. In winter, the sun is low in the sky and can come deeper into your building. In summer, it is very high, so an eave or some form of sun protection will keep it out."

To do this, each facade must be managed differently.

2. Design a suitable building envelope

We're talking your floor, walls, roof, windows and doors. These need to work well for the climate that you're in.

"Here, it is good to have an insulated external skin as this can stop unwanted energy flow," Pidcock said. "Understand what levels of insulation you need -- and consider windows and doors carefully. These matter."

3. Consider your 'thermal mass'

This all comes down to the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy.

Take a brick house in an Aussie summer.

"It is much cooler than a timber house. The thermal mass is protected from the sun and absorbs heat from the air which helps to moderate it," Pidcock said.

"If you can harness air flow when the sun goes down, this can ensure that cool air comes into the house to remove that heat," Pidcock said.

"In winter, if your house is properly insulated from the outside, your house can take warmth and radiate it later."

This is what you call integrated landscaping.

4. How's your landscaping?

Ever wondered through a tree-lined street and felt instant zen? Whilst they not only look more attractive, trees can shade black roads and change the temperature of a suburb my several degrees.

In the same way, it can bring some well-needed natural shading or wind protection to your home.

"If you have a large unshaded terrace sitting in front of your north-facing window, it can heat up and radiate more heat than you can manage," Pidcock said.

"Work with landscaping. This may be deciduous trees, vines or other plants that can help to channel or stop winds or provide shading -- and it is much more attractive than any built form."

On rethinking affordability

For Pidcock, this approach to design is key to making better houses more affordable.

"A lot of these decisions about orientation and protection don't cost anything. Whilst better windows, doors and optimal insulation do, I see these as critical investments," she said.

The question becomes one of quantity over quality.

"I think we can all live good lives in smaller, efficient buildings. If they are well-designed, they will borrow from the outside space, and that will be enough."