The Australian National University
Emeritus Faculty Member

Derek Wrigley OAM, LFDIA, FRAIA, ARIBA, DA(Mancs)


What I have been doing since retirement 

I 'retired' as ANU Architect in 1977, but designers can never retire - there is always a better way waiting to be discovered, especially since 'sustainability' has achieved an increasing degree of prominence in our collective mindset. 
My major activities, in some rough date order from 1977, were :

1 - A large slice of my lump sum pension went into the restoration of Byrne's Flour Mill (1881) in Queanbeyan, rescued from the wrecker's ball as a singular piece of local history. It became a restaurant and my architectural office above for a few years.

2 - I founded Technical Aid to the Disabled (ACT Region) in 1979 in which retired men with workshops designed and made specific aids to enable people with disabilities to be productive and enjoy life more fully. It was self funded and all labour was voluntary, but recipients paid for materials (often scrounged from industry scrap boxes). From that body a second group, Disability Aids Collective Inc. was formed to make batches of aids which had proved to be useful to many types of disability and could be sold to recover net costs. Both groups were very successful and continue to this day. I retired from leadership in 1991, but continue as a technical volunteer.

3 - I designed half of the furniture and the sculptural copper coat of arms in Court 3 for the High Court of Australia around 1980 for Sir Garfield Barwick, Chief Justice.

4 - As the problems of global warming and climate change became more evident and required compensatory community action I became more active in Nature and Society Forum with Prof. Stephen Boyden and Dr. John Schooneveldt (with Prof. Frank Fenner as its Patron), housed in the ANU laboratories at the Horticultural Centre at Weston. We all spent several years planning a future Australian National Biocentre for a provisionally allocated site at the Jerrabomberra wetlands near Kingston. Unfortunately, the 2003 fire burnt out the building and all our design drawings. Shortly after, the ACT Legislative Assembly did not actively support the value of our proposal in educating the public to better understand our fragile biosphere and take remedial action. If it had, such a centre could have been operative by now and be a tremendous tourist drawcard of great educational value about our highly unsustainable lifestyle and what could be done about it.

5 - Between 1977 and 1985 I was actively building two solar experimental houses in Burra, south of Queanbeyan to test my research into more sustainable types of housing with low running costs using solar energy more effectively.

It does not seem to be appreciated that architectural research is not carried out by the Housing Industry Association or the industry itself and can only be done by architects willing to put their own money into their own projects - it is rare for architects to experiment with their client's money. The results from these two houses (and others) made it clear to me that the housing industry in the ACT region was not applying the basic principles of solar energy to housing design.

6 - In 1991 i moved to an existing house in Mawson, ACT where I started to apply the principles of retrofitting to make more effective use of natural energies (solar, wind, buoyancy, water, clarification and re-use of waste water) - on the assumption that if Australia was to reduce electricity consumption and atmospheric pollution then remedial work on existing housing (95% of all stock) would be a most effective way of achieving it. I wrote a book "Making your home sustainable" in 2003 (Scribe Pub.), based upon my Mawson experiences and it has been a best-seller for many years and is now in its third revision. This house is now over 100% self-sufficient in electricity and 82% in water and, with buoyancy ventilation has no need for air-conditioning.

7 - In the hope of convincing the housing industry that there are better ways of building houses I have since written and self-published other books to stimulate the industry into reviewing its design and construction methods ( 'Climate change needs housing change' 2007;  'Buyers' Guide and Check list' 2008; (assisted by the ACT Minister for Planning, Andrew Barr MLA and ACTPLA. 'Are retirement villages designed for the wellbeing of residents - and ready for global warming?' 2009; and 'Low energy affordable housing' 2010. The Housing Industry Association refused to sell my books and gave no support at all.

Feedback has been small but very positive (sales of about 2000 for each book have been achieved). I teamed up with Emer. Prof. John Sandeman (ANUEF) and together we visited several organisations associated with housing, talking to CEOs and giving copies of my books. There has been no action feedback from the housing industry and although Energy Efficiency Ratings (EER) have been instituted, no substantive changes appear to have been made to improve housing design - a national disgrace.

8 - Since 2004 I have been refining the design of my 'EcoSolar' house, with assistance from John Sandeman and others (at my own expense) - on the basis that ' - it is no use criticising the housing industry if I cannot show a better way of designing houses' (see above books) and I now have a willing client, a commissioned architect and a contractor which collectively will build the first EcoSolar house in Chifley this year. In this way it is hoped that the performance of the house can be monitored, recorded and a paper presented, showing that there are indeed better ways of building much more sustainable houses, which, if built in sufficient numbers can make a significant contribution to reducing consumption of polluting energies and very large reductions in running costs.

9 - In 1992 I invented and developed a way of reflecting sunlight, daylight and heat into southern windows of existing houses (calculated by John Sandeman at about 7kWh of free heat energy per day for an average house in the ACT). This design has been progressively developed and improved and eight systems are now in use around the ACT (incl. Frank Fenner's house in Red Hill and John Maindonald in N.Lyneham).

10 - Since 2007 I have been writing a biography of Fred Ward, a designer who made a significant contribution to the ANU in designing the furniture and furnishings of University House and subsequently establishing the ANU Design Unit which became a creative centre for the betterment of ANU buildings and campus between 1952 and 1977.

(Perhaps Peter Stewart might be interested in this for the ANUEF Oral History Project - I have written a full chapter on the development of the ANU Design Unit and would be happy to discuss).  
Future directions for the ANUEF

ANUEF has a mature membership, with a wide and rich variety of knowledge and skills which do not seem to be used to full potential. The ongoing education of our membership by the lecture series is commendable, but I believe it should be extended to use our strengths more effectively.

Here are 3 ways in which ANUEF could assist the voluntary efforts of its members and also be potentially useful to  society :

a - Writing books is a lonely activity and critical feedback from a range of sources can be very valuable to an author. A list of willing, competent mentors from ANUEF members could be a useful resource to establish, from which authors could pick someone of their choice.

b - Similarly, developing a member's idea into a workable, usable concept often results from informed comment from a group of mature minds; eg : I derived great benefit from a trial session with two of our members who kindly advised me on my EcoSolar house project a few years ago following a talk I gave at Kioloa. This project has continued to the stage of a prototype house to be erected in Chifley around the end of February, assisted to a great degree by one of our members, Emeritus Professor John Sandeman, OAM who has made a significant contribution.

c -  A 'Think Tank' group in ANUEF (with its broad range of mature skills) could generate ideas for social betterment by linking world problems synergetically to known ANU skills. These could be discussed, developed and projects initiated. Such a group in our multi-disciplinary ANU could review needs generated by emerging world problems (eg: global warming, climate changes, poverty etc).

Curriculum Vitae

Born 16 February 1924
Life Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia
Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects
Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects
Diploma of Architecture, College of Art & Design, Manchester


Qualified as an architect 1945 in Manchester. Also qualifications in structural engineering and civic design / town planning 1946, Manchester University.

Arrived in Sydney 1947. Designed and built two solar houses at DeeWhy 1948 - 1957.

Architectural practice 1945 - 1948 with Fowell, Mansfield & Maclurcan, Sydney.

Lecturer in architecture at University of Technology until 1957.
Initiated the first Australian course in Building Science for architects in 1949.

Initiated the formation of a NSW Chapter of the Society for Designers in Industry in 1953 which later became the Industrial Design Institute of Australia and subsequently the Design Institute of Australia - now the recognised professional organisation for all designers.

Joined Fred Ward in the Design Unit at the Australian National University 1957, having the basic aim of creating a good learning environment for staff and students.
Following Ward's retirement in 1961, appointed University Architect, built up the Design Unit to a team of 13 to cover all aspects of design within a university - responsible for site planning, architecture, interior design, furniture, landscape, graphics & site signage.
In its time the Design Unit was unique in the world as a unit concerned with total design within an academic organisation.
Retired from ANU,1977, disillusioned at the lack of awareness by senior administrators of the real role of design within an academic institution.

Initiated the formation of the ACT Chapter of the Industrial Design Institute around 1960.
President of the ACT Chapter 1980 -81. Awarded Life Fellowship.

Co-founder, with Fred Ward, of the Industrial Design Council of Australia 1956. First Honorary Secretary under the chairmanship of Essington Lewis & later, Sir Walter Scott.
Chair of the IDCA Education Committee for 3 years.
Chair of the ACT Division of the IDCA in the 1970s.
Initiated the Good Design label of the IDCA ~ 1960 and later, the Australian Design Award. Served on several Design Award selection committees for a wide range of products.
Collaborated with Robin Boyd on the design of an Australian Made exhibition held in the
Australia Square Tower ~ 1962.
Retired from the Design Council of Australia Board in 1986.

In my spare time (!) built a solar house in Griffith, ACT 1957 - 1959 - now listed by the RAIA as an outstanding building for its time. Designed several other houses in Canberra, mainly for ANU academics.

Established a voluntary Technical Aid to the Disabled ( ACT ) 1979. Design Coordinator until 1991.
Still active as a technical volunteer. Designed, prototyped and patented a new kind of hospital bed ( a world first ) which is now in production in Dandenong. ( LiftCare bed ).

Pioneered the establishment of Disability Aids Collective which aimed to make small batches of low cost disability aids on a semi-voluntary basis - now taken on by TAD ACT as TAD Productions. Awarded OAM for services to the disabled 1988.

Renovated Byrne's Mill (an 1881 flour mill) in Queanbeyan) in 1977 to establish private practice as a consultant for solar passive housing. Sponsored a restaurant on the ground floor with Gus Petersilka. (now a heritage listed building).

Built another solar house at Little Burra, NSW 1973......1977. Active solar heating system with under-floor water storage tank and re-locatable walls.

Established The New Millwrights in 1977 - a group of building professionals trying to make the public more energy conscious following the oil scares of 1973.

Designed half of the furniture for the High Court 1978- 80. Designed and made the bronze coat of arms sculpture in Court 3. Collaborated with Peter Otto (Sydney) on design and construction of wooden coat of arms in Court 2.

Designed and built, with my son Ben, another solar house in Burra in which all rooms - north and south - received warming sunlight in winter. Earth sheltered on east, south and west walls, vertically ventilated, solar hot water system with internal (frost-free) absorber panels built into the clerestory window.

Assisted with the Australian Youth Convention on the Environment held in September 1999. Tried to establish a world network of young enthusiasts. Failed.

Joined the Committee of the Nature & Society Forum 1998 working toward an Australian National Biocentre. Secretary to ANB July 1999.
Convenor of the ANB Buildings & Technology Committee 1999 to 2002, responsible for integrating its design policy across all projects.

Moved into the Mawson house 1991. Built the first 2.3kW array of photovoltaic panels in Canberra under the AGO Photo Voltaic Rebate Program in 2000, resulting in a 90% reduction of our electricity bills. Other retrofitted low energy measures have been featured in the alternative energy journal Renew 2001.
The house has been included in the annual Solar House Tours from 2000 - 2005 organised by the ANZ Solar Energy Society and the Alternative Technology Association. Most common comment has been "Why can't we buy houses like this?"

Experimented with Mk1 static solar reflectors in 1998 to utilise 'unused' sunshine by reflecting 1.5MWh heat and light into southern windows of the house over the winter period.

Designed and built new type of adjustable sunshades which permit maximum ingress of winter sunshine and block out all summer sunshine without destroying the view.

Constructed Mk 2 automatically rotating on vertical axis, sculptural heliostat to capture all available sunlight and reflect it at 90º from sunrise to sunset into the southern side of the house. Commissioned April 2002. Calculated potential of 2.5 MWh of free heat over the six month heating period in Canberra. Designed and built a horizontal axis, reversible reflector (winter) backed by photovoltaics (summer).

All reflectors believed to be world firsts, but despite several submissions during 2005 to the New Inventors programme on ABC Television it has always been knocked back on the grounds that it is only a mirror and not an invention. Wrong on both counts. Made a further submission of my reflectors conference paper in Sept. 2006 and received a telephone call back to say they would have another look at it !

Wrote, designed and self-published "Making your home sustainable" in June 2004, describing the various low-energy features of the Mawson house. Sold 1400 copies in 8 months. 5th edition now published by Scribe Publications for overseas distribution.

Delivered many public lectures on this topic to arouse interest in retrofitting our existing houses, but while there is a lot of interest in 'how to do it' there is little evidence that people are willing to spend money to achieve the desired results.

Growing consultancy since 2004 in low energy, sustainable eco-logical house design.

Designed an EcoSolar, integrated, low energy house which I hope to promote as a demonstration house with monitored and displayed evidence of its thermal performance.
Prepared a peer-reviewed paper on the EcoSolar house for the 2006 Annual Conference of the ANZ Solar Energy Society held at ANU in September. Well received.

Also prepared a peer-reviewed paper on southern reflectors. Both papers are on a CD of the Proceedings (in my files).

Organised a Forum on sustainable housing for Sustainable House Day 2006 with 6 speakers on Sept. 9. My conclusion was that most speakers were more interested in justifying their current actions than in contributing to an enquiry into how we can do better.

However, despite the fact that the reflectors and the EcoSolar house are useful architectural elements in achieving lower energy living, there is only superficial interest in their novelty and little real interest in actually building them. Talks given to several Rotary groups, primary school students, university students, teachers etc.

Around 2005 became aware, following the EcoSolar designs, that the underlying problem was in the bad layouts of subdivisions and the decreasing sizes of the blocks which are preventing the building of effective solar houses. Wrote an article on this topic for the Canberra Times but, despite three subsequent requests to the editor it has still not been published. Antagonistic to its advertisers?

Part-time sculptor in bronze & stainless steel. Two successful one-man exhibitions in Canberra 1966 and1973. Designed and made a font in stainless steel, bronze and cast glass in 2005 for St. David's, Red Hill to harmonise with the sanctuary furniture, reredos screen and cross made in 1970.

Nov. 2006 - politicians finally becoming aware of the urgency of dealing with climate change. The UK Stern Report has just been released which has woken people up at last.

Revised November 2006

December 2007

Several more talks to Rotary groups on climate change and housing inadequacies.

Designed a reflector for Em. Prof. Frank Fenner in Red Hill. Erected Dec 2007. Erected Dec. 2007

Increasing number of house evaluations this year.

Gave a talk to ANU Emeritus Faculty on house design, including the EcoSolar. Promised to help.

Wrote and published (and paid for) a booklet "Climate change needs housing change" aimed at our recalcitrant housing industry which shows little interest in meeting the real needs of house buyers in a rapidly changing world. The booklet became popular and the Land Development Agency bought 60 copies to give to staff. Visited several CEOs to discuss the booklet and got good receptions, but no apparent actions. Andrew Barr, ACT Housing Minister however promised to bring CEO's together in Feb 2006 to discuss the situation with us.

Appeared on ABCTV in October 2007 with John Sandeman and Phillip Williams as compere pointing out the housing mistakes which will become slums in the future.

Also appeared on "the new inventors" ABCTV May 2007 with my southern reflectors, but the judges obviously hadn't done their homework and didn't even ask me about its purpose, concentrating on perceived negative aspects which had no basis in fact. Very disappointing.

Writing a Checklist for house buyers wishing to buy a solar efficient house in association with Emeritus Professor John Sandeman. Andrew Barr interested in promoting it.

Main interests: 

Self-reliant Housing.


Derek Wrigley, Wrigley Housing Design, Self-reliant Housing