A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire

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By Susanne Kennedy
After a bushfire, a partially prefabricated beach house rises on a rugged Tasmanian peninsula.

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. 

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 1 of 9 - The dwelling’s concrete slab meets a New Zealand pine deck at the custom steel entrance door. Styled by Julia Landgren

The dwelling’s concrete slab meets a New Zealand pine deck at the custom steel entrance door. Styled by Julia Landgren

"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. 

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 2 of 9 - The Younger family vacation home is a semi-modular structure made of wood, steel, glass, and precast concrete. It’s surrounded by Tasman gold gravel, which acts as <br>a buffer zone in case of a bushfire. A building-height LED light accentuates an exterior corner. &nbsp;&nbsp; Styled by Julia Landgren

The Younger family vacation home is a semi-modular structure made of wood, steel, glass, and precast concrete. It’s surrounded by Tasman gold gravel, which acts as
a buffer zone in case of a bushfire. A building-height LED light accentuates an exterior corner.    Styled by Julia Landgren

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.  

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 3 of 9 - The living area floats atop a deeply recessed steel-reinforced concrete block structure.&nbsp; Styled by Julia Landgren

The living area floats atop a deeply recessed steel-reinforced concrete block structure.  Styled by Julia Landgren

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. 

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 4 of 9 - The dining table and chairs are by Charles and Ray Eames. The ceiling, which extends beyond the building’s envelope, is made of Tasmanian oak. Styled by Julia Landgren

The dining table and chairs are by Charles and Ray Eames. The ceiling, which extends beyond the building’s envelope, is made of Tasmanian oak. Styled by Julia Landgren

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."

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 5 of 9 - The corner bathroom is defined by a freestanding Kado Lure 1760 tub and a powerful view of the bay. Styled by Julia Landgren

The corner bathroom is defined by a freestanding Kado Lure 1760 tub and a powerful view of the bay. Styled by Julia Landgren

"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 Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 6 of 9 - "The house is designed so that you can move around according to the weather and always find somewhere comfortable," says the architect. Styled by Julia Landgren

"The house is designed so that you can move around according to the weather and always find somewhere comfortable," says the architect. Styled by Julia Landgren

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. 

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 7 of 9 - The aluminium-framed windows throughout are by Australian company Capral.&nbsp;"We wanted as<br>much glass as possible to enjoy the almost 360-degree views," says resident Sarah Younger.&nbsp; Styled by Julia Landgren

The aluminium-framed windows throughout are by Australian company Capral. "We wanted as
much glass as possible to enjoy the almost 360-degree views," says resident Sarah Younger.  Styled by Julia Landgren

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. 

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 8 of 9 - A long, narrow deck leads to a custom fire pit by the water’s edge, a nod to the blaze that swept the property in 2013. Tanner worked with Cordwell Lane builders to complete the project in eight months. Styled by Julia Landgren

A long, narrow deck leads to a custom fire pit by the water’s edge, a nod to the blaze that swept the property in 2013. Tanner worked with Cordwell Lane builders to complete the project in eight months. Styled by Julia Landgren

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."  

A Semi-Modular Beach House in Tasmania Floats Over a Site That Survived a Bushfire - Photo 9 of 9 -

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