A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire
Simon and Sarah Younger had only toyed with the idea of building a new beach house beside their shack in Dunalley, Tasmania, when the property was razed by a bushfire in 2013. After the smoke cleared, the Youngers turned to architect Stuart Tanner to design a refuge that would make them feel safe and still realize their vacation house wish list.
The Youngers’ new house is "solid and protecting, yet connected with the vast landscape and vista across Dunalley Bay," says Tanner. Built from steel, Tasmanian oak timber, glass, and precast concrete, the semi-modular house has two distinct wings, one for sleeping and one for living. The pavilions are separated by a long deck, which serves as both entry and axis to Mt. Wellington and the capital city of Hobart in the distance.
"Prior to losing the original house, we’d been collecting pictures of concrete houses for the future project, so when we did rebuild, it was an added bonus that concrete gave us safety as well as the aesthetic we were after," says Sarah.
Not only was precast concrete durable, cost effective, and efficient, but it instantly satisfied the site’s high-fire requirements. Semi-modular construction also seemed the best way to address the project’s other key parameters: a remote site, a modest budget, and an accelerated time frame—the Youngers wanted to enjoy their new house before leaving for overseas work. "It also dramatically reduced the amount of construction waste," Tanner points out.
From the start, the architect and clients had compatible views about how the house should interact with the environment. The Youngers were after as much glass, and as little distinction between inside and out, as possible. "You’d be a fool to try to outdo the landscape, if you thought your building could sing a louder song than the natural world," Tanner declares.
To this end, the architect gently hunkered the rear sleeping wing into the land, so that it would recede behind the social pavilion. The latter, by contrast, is slightly raised above the contour of the land and appears to hover over the sometimes wild water of the bay. The expanse of glass protecting the living pavilion from northwesterly gales is, remarkably, single-glaze only. While the budget precluded double- or triple-glaze panes, Tanner says that the building’s high thermal mass, orientation for solar gain, and hefty insulation ultimately made thicker glass superfluous.
Precast elements always require a high degree of precision, but the stakes are all the greater when the site is far from a major city. Says the architect, "It’s a testament to the skill of all involved—an excellent builder and engineer and clients who didn’t try to grab the steering wheel halfway through—that no errors occurred."
"You’d be a fool to try to outdo the landscape, if you thought your building could sing a louder song than the natural world." Stuart Tanner, architect
A simple fire pit marks the end of the long deck and the tip of the bluff. "It’s a place of congregation and a symbol of the force that transformed the property," says Tanner. It also references the aboriginal tradition of congregating around an open flame, for which the nearby Bay of Fires was named.
Despite its sophisticated shell, the Youngers’ house captures the essence of the original shack that they wanted to retain; its open design, raw concrete surfaces that shrug off salt water and sand, and overall simplicity together convey a humble relationship to nature.
The Youngers credit Tanner for the sense of peace and protection they feel at their new bayside retreat. "Stuart has made the house look and feel as though it’s floating on water from the inside and out," says Sarah. "You almost feel like you are on a boat."