Backchat with Architect Tricia Helyar

architect tricia helyar, i love bello shire, bellingen, architect

Bellingen Shire architect Tricia Helyar is passionate about incorporating green principles into her design.  She acknowledges that the Shire has a diverse range of microclimates which makes this task more complex.  We interview Tricia about working as a green architect in this region, but of course delve a little deeper to reveal the gal behind the architect.

What made you want to become an architect?
Being convinced to do engineering science for the HSC by Mr Little and Mr Strong (teachers not Mr Men characters) as they wanted a girl in the class. I found I really enjoyed it but it was a bit dry, so looked for something creative in that area and architecture was the only career that fit the bill!

What are the green principles that you incorporate into your designs? 
I’m a big fan of passive solar design, so each design incorporates these principles.  Quite simply, passive solar building design requires appropriate windows, walls, and floors which are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer.  Due to the massive differences in microclimate between Urunga, Bellingen and Dorrigo (and even a great diversity within a few kilometres from town), appropriate design for a site needs to consider all environmental aspects as well as typology, access and in particular cross ventilation for Bellingen’s mould problem.

Architect Tricia Helyar, I Love Bello Shire, Bellingen, Urunga, Dorrigo

Example of one of Tricia’s passive solar designs

Passive solar design needs to take into account the site, orientation and aspect as well as material selection. Architecture can be thought of as our third skin, the first skin is your skin, the second clothing, the third skin the built form. The main issue is that a passive design needs an active occupant. There would be no point in complaining about being hot if you still have your jumper on and likewise with a passive building the occupant needs to open and close the spaces to allow for sun and air as necessary.

What modifications can be made to a home to improve the environmental impact/footprint of the occupants?
Insulation and well designed window coverings to help with controlling the transfer of heat and solar panels to offset the energy usage you may need to air condition spaces.

What is going to be the next big thing in the future of architecture?
The influence of technology on construction. On small building sites we are essentially building in the same way we have been for centuries. I am not sure how that will play out, 3D printing buildings?  In terms of of ‘green architecture’, the advances in battery technology and the increasing information about hydrogen fuel cells could have a dramatic impact on the off-the-grid systems. The difficulty with being an early adopter with any materials or technology is the true problems only become apparent once on site, and that can lead to great costs. It is important to review decisions; 25 years ago halogen downlights were seen as the environmental solution, 15 years ago the government endorsed fluorescent bulbs as green, and hopefully the current belief in LED lights is not just another phase.

I believe that the way to build with the least environmental impact is to build it once and build it well. It is concerning that project homes are reportedly assumed to have a 30 year lifespan and the average kitchen is assumed to last 10 years. The best environmental outcome is a combination of good design, durability, maintainability, with consideration of embodied energy and reusability.

Who is your favourite architect and what did they design?
Other than the greats (Frank Lloyd Wright, Utzon etc) I have always been inspired by the work of Steven Holl and Santiago Calatrava.

Your best memory of childhood was?
Many hours riding a stubborn old ex-racehorse Pokey.

Your best sporting moment was?
Running on in Sydney Uni Women’s Rugby Club inaugural game. I wasn’t good, but it was fun to be at the start of something new and made friends for life.

Friends say that you are?

What do you avoid in life?

What are you reading right now?
‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’ by Edmund de Waal.  Actually it is sitting by the bed waiting to be read, I should get started….

What secret can you share with us?
I really wish I was a morning person

After attempting to get some sense out of you at our very early Bellingen Chamber of Commerce Board meetings- I can vouch for that.
If only……
Work would come into the office as a steady flow, rather than all at once or nothing at all.

What really annoys you?

The best lesson your parents taught you?
Everything in moderation, especially moderation.

What project are you currently working on?
A number of new houses, alterations and additions around Bello and in Sydney.  I’m also working collaboratively on a museum project in Goulburn.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Favourite shire eatery?
No. 5 Church Street and not only due to proximity to my office.                                                                        

Best coffee in town?
No. 5 again.

The previous career you wish you could forget?
I worked in a tie shop at uni and may sometimes have actively persuaded awful customers to buy ugly ties.

Your current passion is?
I know this is nerdy, but it is architecture.

Favourite country to visit and why?
I’m a big fan of tropical. No particular country, just warmth and ocean.

Yes or No. Soap on a rope?

Yes or No. Two steps at a time?

Yes or No. Camping?

Yes or No. Kissing on first date?
Never kiss and tell.

In the Movie Triciagate, who would play you?
I went to a couple of face-matching-celebrity web sites, one said Jon Lovitz and the other said Bob Newhart. They aren’t too flattering – can I say Julia Roberts? She’d have to squat down a bit but I think she’d cope.

Architect Tricia Helyar, I Love Bello Shire, Bellingen, Urunga, Dorrigo

Can’t see it Tricia

Tricia Helyar Arcitect


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