Mathieu Gallios’ Reincarnated McMansion upcycle project update

Project Diagram, Riencarnated MacMansion

Is upcycling a supersized home into two or three sustainable dwellings a lofty idea? Not so believes artist/ architect Mathieu Gallios who has worked on his Reincarnated McMansion project since 2007. To realise his vision he has teamed up with Peter Smith, architect/ planning/ environmental consultant, Jason Veale, environmental consultant, Tone Wheeler and Jan O’Connor, architects, Alex Symes, environmental systems, Tobias Robinson, architect, and George Reid, landscape designer and horticulturalist.

Converting a McMansion into two or three smaller sustainable dwellings, the project aims to enhance public awareness of sustainable architectural practice, enhance building practices and ‘show case’ the best sustainable solutions. Also retaining the 300mm outline of the McMansion slab at ground level it will be landscaped to reference the site’s history.

The project is a joint private and public funded project with some funding already secured from the Australia Council for the Arts. Unfortunately it’s still to get off the ground and Gallios foresees a Pozible crowdsourcing campaign in the near future. One of the greatest difficulties so far has been finding an owner who shares the sustainable goals of Gallios in an area where The Big House Phenomenon is the norm and sourcing the additional funding. The McMansion donor needs to be prepared to make an investment in change both in lifestyle and in approach to building development while remaining in the same area. In doing so they become a part of the project as much as it’s initiator and make a very strong statement to those around them.

Gallios says,

“One of the strengths of any activist project, whether it is realised or not, is the stress it can potentially place on all those who have to seriously consider its implementation within their power structures. Change, or proposed change, is revelatory. The Reincarnated McMansion project has enjoyed community support consistent with polls that reveal that Australians do indeed support a sustainable low carbon future. Amongst powerful groups and individuals, those with either the cultural, political or financial means to aid this project’s realization, the Reincarnated McMansion project has also encountered considerable resistance. Councillors and politicians have told us that they are reluctant to support us for fear of loosing votes in critical western Sydney ‘swing’ seats. Newspaper editors have said that they would not publish stories about the project for fear of offending suburban developers who advertise in their publications. Many third parties have been complicit in maintaining the status quo of the McMansion. The emails, letters, contracts and petitions of the Reincarnated McMansion project, consisting of hundreds of documents have been carefully recorded and preserved.”

The project offers a range of possibilities to the client – there is the opportunity of making a profit through the sale of a second home/ apartment that is built on the site, a way of housing children when they grow up, there’s a grannyflat option to look after aging parents, or an apartment to rent. This major rebuild can respond to the needs of the client / sponsor and is an opportunity to collaborate on the brief. Gallios estimates that the revenue from the sale of each dual occupancy residence will be approximately $650,000, thus, at least doubling the home’s original value.

While this is a straight forward build, the project sits across disciplines and covers the areas of contemporary art, architecture, town planning and environmentalism. It will apply some unusual methodologies. For instance tiles, bricks concrete will be crushed and reconstituted to be used as a cladding material. On the upper levels bricks will be used on the inside and timber will be used externally creating an ‘inside-out’ approach.

Veronica Tello in “Mat Gallios’s Reincarnated McMansion”, Curating Cities: Database of Eco-Sustainable Public Art (author’s copy), recently summarised the project details. The smaller green dwellings produce zero emissions by adopting a range of sustainable architecture practices including:

  • Recycling, ‘reincarnating’ building materials. The reuse of much the original McMansion materials to dramatically reduce embodied energy footprint by an estimated 50-75%
  • Orientating buildings to face north within 5 degrees, to optimise passive solar intake in the winter and its PV, solar hot water performance
  • Fully integrating a solar roof (PV, solar hot water)
  • Making a flexible shell by adopting the three Ls of ‘reincarnation’; Low impact, Loose fit, Long life. Internal spaces will be simple and adaptable for future changes
  • Designing different parts of the house for different seasons, e.g, by adopting the Tent / esky principle: the house’s top floor will be timber while the ground floor will be made of thermal mass
  • Integrating a large above-ground concrete water tank into the overall plan and circulation program

It is a new breed of owner who is willing to go through a major redevelopment while downsizing, all the while developing a cutting edge sustainable home. They will be an individual or family with a strong sense of social responsibility and adventure and should not be camera shy as they become a part of documentation process.

We look forward to seeing this project become one of the new models for sustainable housing that can lead to a better furture.

This ABC Radio National pod cast featuring Mathieu Gallios and Tone Wheeler outlines the ideals of the initiative and the reasons for it.