“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” - Pablo Picasso

This project for a family coastal residence is located on a stunning isolated site in eastern Victoria on former farmland. The design is an investigation of how an idealised conception of “house” is transformed by its context and use. The site has extraordinary qualities: harsh prevailing winds of the Roaring Forties; sloping site; and sublime panoramic views from Cape Liptrap to Wilson’s Promontory. The residence required maximum flexibility as a beach home that could accommodate varying sleeping needs - anything from a single guest to burgeoning family summer holidays.

As a point of departure, the sectional character of the design adopts an idealised child-like profile of a gabled house. However this reading of the architecture is subverted by a reorientation of the plan. The house twists to accommodate framed views and take advantage of the natural fall of the site, with two wings capturing significant views of the landscape to the east and west. These arms of the building create a sheltered area to the north side which provides a protected area from the prevailing winds. Internally the wings are mediated by an ambiguous central space that operates as provisional gallery, entry, veranda, storage, dining, lounge and circulation zone. This contested area engages more directly with the landscape and environment and accommodates shifting patterns of use. The inherent efficiency of such overlapping functions enables a relatively small floor area of 125sq.m – one of the most effective means of reducing materials and energy consumption.

Like many beach houses located on Australia's southern coastline, this project faced the dilemma of a site with spectacular views, but oriented to the south. The design response was to articulate openings to reveal (and conceal) specific vistas, inviting the inhabitants of the house to speculate both on the nature of 'viewing' and also their relationship with the landscape and its mediation through architecture. This provided an alibi for more extensive solid walls to enhance the thermal performance of the building.

All walls and roof of the building are clad in a waterproof membrane system on plywood sheet substrate. We imagined this taut rubberised coating as analogous to a surfer’s wetsuit – a garment for survival and comfort in harsh saltwater environments. Thermal analysis tests were conducted to determine the relative heat loads given different colour finishes. "Wetsuit" black was selected in response to the relatively cooler coastal temperatures and this colour, combined with the abstract geometry of the architecture, blurs one’s perception of the building’s scale and depth. It becomes an oscillating silhouette, alluding to the granite boulders prevalent in the local geological terrain.


Completed: 2010
Design: Andrew Simpson, Owen West and Dennis Prior (of WSH Architects)
Project Team: Andrew Simpson, Owen West, Steve Hatzellis, Dennis Prior, Stephan Bekhor, Eugene An
Photography: Christine Francis


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