With a PhD in ephemeral architecture, a background in fine arts, and a long profession in landscape architecture, Dr. Charles Anderson wears many design hats. So, it was only natural that he and his wife, Tiziana Launech, would want to design and build, rather than buy, their vacation home by the beach.
To flex their creative muscles, the duo purchased a defunct chicory kiln on the northwest side of Australia’s Phillip Island to serve as the base structure for their new home. The decayed building was one of the many kilns that dot the island—relics of a bygone chicory farming industry.
After spending years preparing the decrepit structure for renovation and drafting designs, the couple asked their longtime friend Andrew Simpson, principal at Andrew Simpson Architects, to help convert the heritage-listed building into a welcoming and sustainable home on a budget of less than $280 per square foot.
"The site location had a significant impact on the material choices for the project, as the exterior had to be able to withstand harsh coastal weather," says Simpson. "The architectural response to this history is also evident through the use of raw materials such as recycled timber, shotcrete, stainless steel bench tops, galvanized steel sheet canopies, and steel and stainless steel stair balustrades—all used to celebrate this local industrial and rural history."
The vacation home also pays homage to one of Anderson’s artworks named A House for Hermes #1: The House of My Father, a 1,076-square-foot installation made of plywood panels etched with digitally overlaid drawings by Anderson’s father of the different houses where Anderson had lived. The piece explores ideas of dwelling and transition, and it was exhibited at Tarrawarra Museum in 2007.
"The design was conceived as part of an ongoing exploration of what might constitute ‘home’ or ‘place’ in a world where prevailing conditions are of speed, dynamism, and change," explains Simpson. The timber artwork not only inspired the name of the vacation house—House for Hermes—but the plywood panels were also reused to line the ceiling above the exposed trusses.
The conceptual thinking behind that artwork is also expressed in the mobile kitchen cabinetry, which is built on casters to roll along the floor for multiple configurations. A portion of the stairs is also mounted on casters, with breaks for stabilization.
"Continuing with the concept of ‘home’ and ‘place’, the flexible stair provides an opportunity to manipulate the threshold of circulation on the ground level," explains the architect. "This desire for serendipity is partly a response to Georges Perec’s question: ‘We should learn to live more on staircases. But how?’"
The renovation of the chicory kiln and the new construction resulted in a 1,065-square-foot minimalist home—roughly the same size as Anderson’s former art installation—that’s built predominately of salvaged timber inside and out. Salvaged and recycled materials helped keep the home’s construction costs and carbon footprint to a minimum.
"Timber is a recurring theme throughout this project—in addition to contributing to the warm, tactile aesthetic of the home, it also significantly contributes to the functionality and sustainability of the project," notes Simpson, who built the floors, walls, stairs, and cabinetry out of hoop pine plywood to match the pine and KD hardwood ceiling.
"Where possible, recycled on-site timbers were used. In terms of the structural frame of the building, the use of steel was avoided and timber adopted to reduce the carbon footprint of the building—this had the added benefit of improving thermal efficiency and creating an aesthetically warm internal environment."
The adoption of passive design strategies also improve the sustainability of the house, which takes advantage of cooling cross breezes. In addition to the kiln’s naturally high thermal mass, lightweight high-density foam provides insulation for the first floor.
"The architecture is predicated, not on the rehearsed acts of enclosure or through the predetermined functions that define a house, but on the idea of facilitating and celebrating transformation and movement," says Simpson.
"Through the use of adaptive and reconfigurable spaces and the manipulation of thresholds and passages, the house is intended to be a place that engages with and is a catalyst for change. A sense of ‘open-endedness’—of new possibilities of inhabitation is reinforced by the treatment of an interior landscape defined by contiguous interlocking volumes that encompass the exterior decking and surrounding context."
Builder / General Contractor: NJ Heathcote Constructions
Structural Engineer: Meyer Consulting
Landscape Design Company: Charles Anderson
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