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October 30, 2009

On my recent trip to Melbourne, Australia, I did manage to get out of the city for one day. I zipped down to the Mornington Peninsula to visit a couple wineries, and also to see the Courtyard House, a three-year-old design by Melbournian architect Rowan Opat.

Pulled far back from the house you can see how the vault of the living room really opens up to the landscape. I'd bet this photo was taken from an oval of grass in the garden (Australian Rules Football demands to be played in an oval), and gives a pretty
Pulled far back from the house you can see how the vault of the living room really opens up to the landscape. I'd bet this photo was taken from an oval of grass in the garden (Australian Rules Football demands to be played in an oval), and gives a pretty clear view of how expansive it feels inside.
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Here's a peek into the garage and the circular drive, visible once you enter the front gate. Rowan told me that in siting the house he worked hard to keep tree removal down to just one. He also mentioned that the trees that surround the circular driveway
Here's a peek into the garage and the circular drive, visible once you enter the front gate. Rowan told me that in siting the house he worked hard to keep tree removal down to just one. He also mentioned that the trees that surround the circular driveway do have one major drawback—aggressive lapwings, which are prone to attack once their eggs have been laid.
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Viewed from the circular drive out front, the courtyard is the house's defining feature. With a shaded walk all the way around it, and a northward siting, the space makes use of passive solar techniques to remain temperate even in hot Victorian summers.
Viewed from the circular drive out front, the courtyard is the house's defining feature. With a shaded walk all the way around it, and a northward siting, the space makes use of passive solar techniques to remain temperate even in hot Victorian summers.
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With a hardworking solar array, the Courtyard House pumps energy back into the electric grid. The site also has an elaborate water filtration system which collects more than it uses, and that includes watering a massive garden.
With a hardworking solar array, the Courtyard House pumps energy back into the electric grid. The site also has an elaborate water filtration system which collects more than it uses, and that includes watering a massive garden.
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The entryway of the house, as seen from the garden, was devised as a kind of red carpet into the home. It looks great set against the black exterior. Just behind the entry is the black-clad water filtration system.
The entryway of the house, as seen from the garden, was devised as a kind of red carpet into the home. It looks great set against the black exterior. Just behind the entry is the black-clad water filtration system.
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The kitchen, living and dining rooms are the heart of the home. Once you make it down the long corridor you come into this wonderfully open space festooned with dangling lights and a vault of wooden slats. The whole space is well-wrought, but unfussy. I f
The kitchen, living and dining rooms are the heart of the home. Once you make it down the long corridor you come into this wonderfully open space festooned with dangling lights and a vault of wooden slats. The whole space is well-wrought, but unfussy. I felt immediately at home.
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This is the master bathroom, which opens onto the courtyard to the left and back into the master bedroom to the right. I most loved the Japanese tub, in which one sits with the waterline up to their necks.
This is the master bathroom, which opens onto the courtyard to the left and back into the master bedroom to the right. I most loved the Japanese tub, in which one sits with the waterline up to their necks.
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This bathroom, which abuts the kitchen, also houses the laundry, which can be closed off behind tall white doors. Considering how removed the house is from its rural neighbors, bath time privacy is of little concern.
This bathroom, which abuts the kitchen, also houses the laundry, which can be closed off behind tall white doors. Considering how removed the house is from its rural neighbors, bath time privacy is of little concern.
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The deck off the kitchen and dining room gets loads of use. As it's more visually connected to the common areas of the house, and the fact that it was an utterly splendid day when I visited, it actually feels more social to hang out there than in the cour
The deck off the kitchen and dining room gets loads of use. As it's more visually connected to the common areas of the house, and the fact that it was an utterly splendid day when I visited, it actually feels more social to hang out there than in the courtyard. And with the garden in full bloom, it makes for one of the more verdant views on the property.
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Here you can see the courtyard lit up at night. As Rowan puts it: "The Somers Courtyard House is modeled in the spirit of an antique Chinese courtyard house, which accommodates generations of families by providing a cluster of buildings around a central o
Here you can see the courtyard lit up at night. As Rowan puts it: "The Somers Courtyard House is modeled in the spirit of an antique Chinese courtyard house, which accommodates generations of families by providing a cluster of buildings around a central open space. Parts of the house are interconnected by the central courtyard including the sauna, garage, studio and a variety of outdoor covered living areas."
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The bushland of the Mornington Peninsula is truly lovely, and this view from the deck off the main common areas looks straight out toward it. Though one of my ulterior motives for heading out of Melbourne was to see some Aussie fauna (koalas are common ar
The bushland of the Mornington Peninsula is truly lovely, and this view from the deck off the main common areas looks straight out toward it. Though one of my ulterior motives for heading out of Melbourne was to see some Aussie fauna (koalas are common around here) I totally struck out. Too bad, as a mother and baby koala had been spotted on the property just a day before.
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Set up on a concrete plinth and covered in large tiles, the fireplace actually acts as a thermal mass that helps keep things toasty in the cold Victorian winters. Unlike the region around Sydney, the Melbourne area has quite a drastic change in climate th
Set up on a concrete plinth and covered in large tiles, the fireplace actually acts as a thermal mass that helps keep things toasty in the cold Victorian winters. Unlike the region around Sydney, the Melbourne area has quite a drastic change in climate throughout the seasons. The steps you see in the foreground lead into a little antechamber (used as a nursery) and then the master bedroom.
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The roofline of the north-facing house (remember, this is the Southern Hemisphere, so facing north is the best way to maximize passive solar techniques) was designed to correspond with the angles of the summer and winter sun.
The roofline of the north-facing house (remember, this is the Southern Hemisphere, so facing north is the best way to maximize passive solar techniques) was designed to correspond with the angles of the summer and winter sun.
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Rowan told me that he wanted "the radial-sawn timber cladding to act like a drape. Then the house would have these shapely openings, like keyholes." This view from the front shows how Rowan used the deep shadows not only as cooling devices, but as an actu
Rowan told me that he wanted "the radial-sawn timber cladding to act like a drape. Then the house would have these shapely openings, like keyholes." This view from the front shows how Rowan used the deep shadows not only as cooling devices, but as an actual aesthetic element of the house. The study of the play of shadows, I was happy to learn, is called sciagraphy.
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"Darker external colors integrate the house into the shadows of the surrounding bushland," Rowan said. "The courtyard is a lighter color to contrast with the exterior and make it feel a bit more like an interior to be within, even though it's outside." Th
"Darker external colors integrate the house into the shadows of the surrounding bushland," Rowan said. "The courtyard is a lighter color to contrast with the exterior and make it feel a bit more like an interior to be within, even though it's outside." This idea of integrating into the landscape is one that Rowan took very seriously, hiring a sustainability consultant very early in the process to make maximum use of the site, the sun and the water the land collects.
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Pulled far back from the house you can see how the vault of the living room really opens up to the landscape. I'd bet this photo was taken from an oval of grass in the garden (Australian Rules Football demands to be played in an oval), and gives a pretty
Pulled far back from the house you can see how the vault of the living room really opens up to the landscape. I'd bet this photo was taken from an oval of grass in the garden (Australian Rules Football demands to be played in an oval), and gives a pretty clear view of how expansive it feels inside.
Project 
Courtyard House
Architect 

Rowan met me down at the house, which is in the small town of Somers, and gave me the proper tour. Not only is the place highly sustainable, its central courtyard and very livable aesthetics make for a rural retreat I'd certainly be happy to have. Check the slideshow and have a look around.

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