Keeping it simple on Santorini

 

Recently some members of the 5to50 team enjoyed an offsite conference (ahem, much-delayed honeymoon) in Greece. There was sun, sand, warm water and plenty of tzatziki of course, but we also loved looking at the Greek building methods – especially on Santorini. Residential construction in Greece seems to be fairly simple – it’s formed up, concrete is poured and, in Santorini at least, the roof is quite often concrete as well. Inside, the walls are rendered but there’s no lining or gyprock and in general, all the floors are tiled. The walls are lovely and thick which gives the buildings great thermal mass (it gets mighty hot on those idyllic islands) and external shutters are also part of the design to stop the summer heat from getting in through the windows.

Let me digress on European windows for a moment – many places in Europe have these wonderful combination window-doors. Turn the handle one way and they open like a regular door, turn it the other way and it tilts open from the bottom, allowing air to flow in at the top while still providing security. Granted, it’s a little unnerving the first time you do it and think the door is falling on you, but after that it’s wonderful. Oh, and of course they’re all double glazed – come on Australia, we need to lift our window game!

Anyway, back to this lovely simple method of building that they have in Greece – compared to Australia it involves far fewer trades and far fewer junctions where different building materials meets and, as we all know, junctions are where water can get in and water ingress is a builder’s least favourite thing. Back in Australia, where the climate is quite similar in much of the country, we’re building houses out of cardboard (well, timber frames with cladding but it seems like the same thing) and insulation or thermal mass is often an afterthought. Although there is a movement towards smaller houses, I think many Australians are still opting for size over build quality and that shows up every winter when anyone who lives in Sydney is shocked at how cold it is.

When I build my dream home (no, absolutely no plans in that direction right now which is why it’s a dream home) I’d love to put some of these traditional building techniques in place to create a home that’s full of beautiful spaces as well as making the most of sensible building materials and environmental design principles. Until then, I’ll be saving up for another “conference” in the Greek islands!

Do you enjoy looking at local architecture and building methods when you travel?

Any techniques or ideas that you’d like to incorporate into your own home?

Calamari or grilled sardines?

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