SUSTAINABLE  CANBERRA                                           australian institute of landscape architects   AILA®

project introduction

case study #9


Christie Walk, 105 Sturt St, Adelaide


Christie Walk is an unique housing precinct within walking distance of Adelaide’s city centre.  Not only is the project unusual in that it employs non-traditional building techniques and materials and generates green power, it places a strong emphasis on social sustainability and housing affordability. 

Designed and driven by passionate architect, Paul Downton, this development is based on his ecopolis vision.  Downton is passionate about the integration of ecologically designed cities, buildings and landscapes.  Back in the early 1990s he had a grand vision for the Adelaide site.  His concept was inspiring and revealed permaculture influences, an Australian innovation.  It also shares similarities with American Shaker villages, where there was a belief in community, material re-use and simple design which focused on the twin roles of function and aesthetics.  Downtown recognises that increasingly humanity will need to be accommodated in cities, therefore these places need to reconcile ecological restoration with commerce.

Fast forward a decade or so and Christie’s Walk was realised.  It is a good example of retrofitting an inner city site, with proximity to the city centre encourages residents to walk rather than drive. 

Fourteen dwellings were constructed during Stages 1 and 2 on the irregular 2000 square metre site.  That’s equivalent to about four Canberra house blocks in a greenfields development.  In order to fit on this diminutive site, the building footprint needed to be small.  At three storeys high the development maintains a human scale.


Christie Walk contains a mix of housing types: a three storey block of six apartments, five townhouses and three cottages.   Individual dwellings contain two or three bedrooms, more in keeping with population and lifestyle changes, than the four bedroom, two bathroom plus double garage houses offered by many building companies.  In 2006, an apartment block with shared community facilities was added to the site.

Downton took a giant leap forward in the design-construction process.  In 1999, it was impossible to find a builder to take on the venture.  As a result, Downtown engaged future residents in the planning, design and construction of the development.  This had mixed results: a wide range of views were considered but processes could be time consuming  and frustrating. 

Thus in his determined fashion, Downton along with future residents formed their own building company.  Creating a non-profit building group enabled them to keep prices reasonable in an inner city location.  Residents own their own dwellings and share communal outdoor spaces.  When residents purchase a property, they are not only acquiring a building in which to live, but a lifestyle with like minded people.


In keeping with the spirit of community co-operation and cost reduction, residents have been responsible for constructing the Christie Walk landscape.  Sinuous paths and paving circles were constructed from reused site materials using village labour.  Communal paved areas have become gathering points to relax with one another after the slog of working bees.

Residents plant and tend to garden beds outside their residences, and have created an eclectic landscape.  Built form is softened and shade provided by climbers trained to balconies and pergolas.  In the initial landscape planning, an emphasis was placed on using native plants with low water requirements.  Exotic deciduous trees are used where appropriate to allow winter solar and provide shade in summer.  The Neem tree, Azadirachta indica, a permaculture darling,has been used throughout outdoor spaces.

Emphasis has also been placed on growing food on the site in a communal raised garden bed, helping to reduce the environmental footprint of the residents.  At Christie Walk the owners have demonstrated that even in small inner city areas it is possible to grow some of a household’s food needs. 

Public access is encouraged. As townhouses front onto communal walkways visitors frequently stop and question residents about aspects of the development.  Due to community interest a paid walking tour was introduced to educate the public about the ecological design of the community.

Downtown continued his commitment to showcase sustainable urban design.  An accessible roof garden was created on top of the apartment block.  This has a number of benefits. Not only does the roof garden create extra outdoor space on a dense site, it adds a layer of insulation to the building.  This roof garden has a soil depth of 350mm and supports a wide range of plants. It also offers panoramic views across densely packed buildings to the grey-blue haze of the Adelaide Hills.


Fortunately local planners were sympathetic to Downton’s concept of creating a walkable urban environment. Stages 1 and 2 of Christie Walk consists of 14 dwellings, with two or three bedrooms, yet the council allowed them to limit car parking to a mere 11 spaces.  This means more room can be devoted to outdoor areas.  Like the eco-housing development, Westwyck located in Melbourne’s inner city, cars are kept to the site perimeter, with no internal vehicular access.  At both Christie Walk and Westwyck storm-water is retained on site in water tanks under the carpark.  This is a good solution for a site with limited external spaces. 

In designing the buildings, solar orientation was maximised wherever possible on the awkwardly shaped block. Great care has been taken in selecting non-toxic building materials. External walls are made of either aerated concrete blocks or straw bale.  Concrete floors were poured to provide the thermal mass for the buildings.  Passive cooling using windows and vents was a big priority.  Solar panels fixed to roofs reduce Christies Walk reliance on mains power.

Structural timbers include plantation grown radiata pine, recycled oregon and windows are made of recycled timbers.  Most floors are made from ‘Marmoleum’, a linoleum product manufactured from a range of natural renewable material, including linseed oil, jute and cork flour.


Christie Walk won an international environmental award for good practice in 2005.  The success of the development can also be measured by lifestyle choices made by the lead developer.  Downtown and his partner have chosen to live at Christie Walk.

Whilst Christie Walk is not for everyone, it provides a way forward in creating vibrant sustainable inner city communities.  The grand vision could be tailored to inner city sites in Canberra.  The proposed Eastlake near the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, could have its own version, where an emphasis is placed on reducing reliance on cars, building truly energy efficient buildings, using landscape to modify the effects of a drying climate and relying on a process and spaces that develop community spirit.


Guidelines for an eco-village
Your Home
Ecopolis Architects: Christie Walk web site
project article by Gweneth Leigh AILA


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