House at Big Hill
High on a hill, above the legendary Great Ocean Road, and overlooking the magnificent Bass Strait, is a new, very quietly calm house by Kerstin Thompson Architects. The clients requested a “solid house”, and the building does answer that desire, with a simple palette of oiled timbers and concrete block walls.
Resisting the temptation to simply sweep the facade with window-walls, instead the “solid house” feel was enhanced with pocket windows, carved out of the dense walls, as if to provide port holes through which to isolate and frame the view.
This is a very ruggedly stunning part of Australia. Few who visit are not enchanted with its wild beauty. But the winds can roar, and the chill can be icy in winter. A house here needs to be both a gloriously cosy retreat in winter, but cool in summer. Concrete floors and blockwork walls achieve both. They work as a heat bank, with their great thermal masses absorbing heat from the sun streaming through the windows on winter’s days, releasing it back at night. And in summer, by absorbing the heat from the room and keeping it cool. It’s a very effective and simple regulator.
Big Hill House plays with light and shadow, cool grey concrete and warm timbers; to produce a home which reflects & echoes its surrounds. The building is not fussy – instead it is intimate, with the same wild untamed beauty as the ocean outside. It’s the kind of beauty which is not necessarily revealed by the camera lens, but one which is almost more emotional, needing to be experienced in real life. Just the kind of space where one feels safe and quiet, without especially needing to analyse why.
This house is a direct design response to site, form and utility of material, which combine to create a solid, robust shelter against the Southern Ocean’s exposure. Disclosure of the view is subverted by the compressed triangular plan, yet the experience is heightened at the place where the prospect is most revered. In the words of the architect, “the right angle triangle is most productively aligned with the forces of the site.
The long side of the triangle acts as retaining wall struck against the slope of the land.” Inside this house, rooms slide into each other, dissolving the problem of further enclosure. The plan is unrestricted, and a sense of infinite space is achieved. Materials are reduced to a palette of concrete, glass and timber, underpinning the desire for a coastal retreat to be basic and creating an embedded modesty. This house is deceptively simple and its actual quality belies this simplicity, recalling the origins of the shack, creating an authentic, contemporary retreat.
Kerstin Thompson Architects
Our most recent project near Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is characterised by a restrained material palette and singular form. The triangular plan, semi-recessed into the sloping site, is orientated to take advantage of the 180 degree views towards the townships of Lorne and Airey’s Inlet and of Bass Strait through a filter of mature eucalypts. Responding to the clients preference for a solid building a natural grey concrete block was selected for the walls, both inside and out. In combination with a black ceiling and dark roof the house is effectively camouflaged within its bush landscape. The interior has an intimate quality achieved through the careful modulation of natural light and shadow and the use of timber accents which offset the concrete floors and blockwork walls. Views are captured by picture frame windows that become spaces to occupy through deep reveals and window seats. A contrast to the lightweight beach house this dwelling instead provides a solid retreat from which to contemplate the extremes of this beautiful west coast landscape.
Project name: House at Big Hill
Location: Great Ocean Road, Big Hill, Victoria, Australia
Type: Hill House, Ocean House, Brick House
Project Area: approx 250 sqm
Project Year: 2010
Completion Year: 2011
- 2012 Australian Houses Awards – New House over 200m2 Category – Winner
- 2012 Australian Institute of Architects Awards – Victorian AIA Awards – Residential New Category – Winner
Client / Owner / Developer: Private
Architects: Kerstin Thompson Architects, 277 Queensberry st, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia
Project Architect: Kerstin Thompson
Text Description: © Courtesy of Kerstin Thompson Architects
Images: © Trevor Mein – meinphoto Pty Ltd