Cobargo Santa Project

Cobargo, a small township in rural New South Wales, was ravaged by devastating bush fires on New Year’s Day 2020.

Watching the tragic events unfold from Melbourne, Jeremy McLeod and his team at architecture firm Breathe, felt compelled to act. Reaching out to a local RFS fire chief in New South Wales, Jeremy learned that one family in particular was in need of assistance.

The family was David and Barbara Rugendyke, a couple who had devoted their entire lives to helping other people. An RFS volunteer, Dave was also the town Santa, utilising a converted red tractor to drive through the township and hand out gifts.

Architecture: Breathe
Production: The Local Project
Video: Cheer Squad
Photography: Pablo Veiga
Styling: Atelier Lab
After meeting with Dave and Barb, Jeremy reached out to suppliers and contractors seeking contributions toward a new home for them.

Automatic Heating are grateful to have been among those contacted and welcomed the opportunity to donate hydronic heating equipment for the project.

A myriad of other suppliers were also called upon, each one answering the call and donating materials as Jeremy requested. This led to Breathe Associate, Madeline Sewall being tasked with the challenge of turning these many expressions of good will and a diverse range of materials into a place that Dave and Barb could gladly call home.

“It was this incredible team of people that came together within the blink of an eye. And then I went back to Maddie and said, ‘Here are all the people that are donating these things, how do we design a house with this kit of parts?’” Jeremy recounts.

While the pro bono architectural services rendered by Breathe involved a design process that was somewhat reverse engineered, the outcome is a project that Jeremy says “is one of the projects we’re most proud of, despite its incredible humility”.

As a building, the Cobargo Santa Project sits delicately within the landscape. Modest in size, it possesses a homely charm that is no more present than when the Rugendykes are sitting around the outdoor table with cups of tea and their family nearby. “From a design perspective, this house is incredibly simple, efficient and really robust,” explains Madeline. “So, we’ve got the bedroom side, which has the bathrooms and the bedrooms, and we’ve got the kitchen, living and dining area.” Off this part of the house sits a small deck with a barbecue and outdoor dining setting.

Cobargo Santa Project family room and deck
Cobargo Santa Project heat pump system
Hydronic heating radiator installed at Cobargo project
Where the building excels is in its sensitivity and consideration for the environment it sits within. Breathe ensured that the property is not only carbon neutral in operation but as resilient to future fire events as possible. “We wanted to think about the future should another bushfire event occur, as well as just deliver a better outcome that’s more sustainable,” Madeline reasons. “This house runs on a fossil fuel free system. We’ve got a hydronic heat pump system with a buffer tank. We designed the house with a pitched roof to shed embers if another fire event were to occur, and the roof also has a sprinkler system installed along the ridge line.”
Cobargo Santa Project family room
With Dave and Barb living in temporary structures with their foster children since the fires, Automatic Heating would like to pay tribute to those who worked so hard to make sure that they were out of home for as brief a period as possible. At Christmas 2019 their house burned down. At Christmas 2020, they were celebrating in their new home — with their family.
We invite you to watch the video and enjoy with us, the heartwarming story of courage in the face of adversity and how a place we can call home is so much a part of our lives.
Cobargo Santa Project entry

To learn more about the Cobargo Santa project, visit: