Architects: David Barr, Ross Brewin
Location: Perth, Australia
Area: 150.0 sqm
Project Year: 2012
Photographs: Robert Frith
From the architect. The project’s conceptual framework is built around a critique of it’s developing suburban context, a typological narrative around the respective backgrounds of the clients, and a response to the specifics of the site itself. The house is located in the southern suburban fringe of Perth, a place that is currently undergoing rapid transformation from it’s loose, coastal urban form, into a built-up suburb typical of other areas along Perth’s coast. The house challenges the conventions of new detached housing being built in the area in that it is small, raised above the ground, has no front fence, no front door, no garage, and is not made of brick. The clients are a recently married couple. He, a born and bread West Australian, Her, a Queenslander. Analogous to their union, the design brings these two humble types together, combining the relaxed simplicity of a west-Australian beach shack with the climatic and utility benefits of a traditional raised Queenslander. The house resists the typical approach of flattening and filling the site and is instead, carefully lofted above a natural limestone outcrop, allowing the spaces above to make the most of coastal views while a shaded garden terrain is created below the house.
The design celebrates the client’s desire to have a suburban home that has the casualness of a holiday shack; a sense that they could come home from work and instantly feel like they were near the beach whilst still benefitting from the connectedness and access to services that suburban living offers. The design of the house also needed to anticipate the future of it’s recently married inhabitants so an additional room is ‘tucked’ underneath the house at the rear, providing a flexible space that could be a 4th bedroom, granny flat, rumpus room, home office, or backyard pavilion.
The house references the humble materiality and scale of nearby holiday beach houses that once defined the area. However, what might appear to be a simple weatherboard ‘shack’ is lofted above the ground in dynamic contrast to both these referenced buildings and the new houses that sit heavily on their flattened, retained sites, becoming a new type of house for the area. This seemingly simple box is notionally opened with a series of formal ‘flicks’ that reference traditional window awnings while permitting light, air and controlled views into and out of the house, and ensuring privacy and shading.
In keeping with a typical Queenslander, the underside of the residence provides the utility, housing cars, beach paraphernalia, gardening equipment and the flexible room. Above, a compact apartment-like plan arrangement divides the house into simple private sleeping quarters on the east and generous, shared family spaces on the west, including an outdoor room that facilitates the indoor / outdoor lifestyle afforded by the Perth climate. These zones are divided by a continuous corridor ‘spine’; a hard-working element that contains the kitchen, bar-b-que, bedroom robe, storage and ducting, and widens at the southern end to form a study nook.
The project was a fruitful collaboration between client, architect and builder towards a common vision for the project. A key example of this is in the ‘zig-zagging’ galvanized steel legs and the angular storeroom which notionally bellies-out from for the soffit of the house above. These elements primarily provide structural bracing but were crafted and detailed in such a way that they provide playful, expressive architectural features under the house. The storeroom is then specifically dimensioned to house two long kayaks. The key financial challenge of the project stemmed from the desire to maximise views over the surrounding rooftops and to preserve and incorporate the existing limestone ridge, all within a modest budget. This led to designing a small, compact house to offset the costs associated with raising the building high up on a steel structure. Also, the external finishes aim to achieve a balance of low-cost and low-maintenance whilst working with a beach-shack aesthetic. They include galvanised finish to steel, clear finished fibre cement sheet to the soffit and colorbond steel to the wall cladding and roof.
The main contributing factor in energy consumption in housing is size as it relates to energy for heating and cooling. This compact house is less that 150m2 and will over it’s lifespan, consume far less energy than the average new house in Australia which is over 250m2. Despite it’s smallness, the house still delivers a high degree of spatial amenity through careful planning and placement of openings that maximise passive environmental benefits of north solar gain and cross-ventilation and prevent overloading of west sun in summer. This agenda of ‘smallness’ is backed up with sustainable material use. The project uses recycled and renewably sourced timber for flooring, walls and cabinetry and externally, the house is skinned in a white ‘colorbond’ steel weatherboard for it’s low heat absorption and longevity. Artificial lighting is typically LED for it’s lower energy consumption and maintenance. The landscape design incorporates native coastal species that require minimal watering. What watering is required, is provided for by a rainwater tank under the house. Also, the existing limestone ridge found on the site was used as a natural retaining wall, keeping disturbance to the natural ground to a minimum.
The house is situated in an place that is rapidly loosing it’s heritage significance through a wave standard suburban development that fails to acknowledge the area’s unique cultural and built traditions. For example, the previously approved planning application on the site was for a 250m2, 3 bedroom house, + 2 car garage and swimming pool (despite the beach being only a few hundred meters away). The house was rendered brick with a tiled roof, and sat on a flattened site, retained with a 2m high wall; a house typical of the inappropriate new housing being built in the area. Instead, our project aims to celebrate and reinterpret the humble materiality, scale and form of nearby weatherboard and fibro beach shacks that once defined the area and work with the looseness and informality of the existing urban form of the area. Unlike most of the new houses in the street, the project is left unfenced at the front. This lack of rigid demarcation of the front and side boundaries, offers the street a natural limestone outcrop as visual amenity and appreciation of the terra firma. It is a suburban beach house for Coogee as much as it is for the clients.