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Planchonella House

Architect Jesse Bennett and his wife, interior designer Anne-Marie Campagnolo built a curvy treetop Planchonella house in Cairns, Australia, Designed with a simple idea in mind- to create a joyful space which enriches daily life. Set in tropical north Queensland, Planchonella House embraces the rainforest surrounds, allowing the aspect to take centre stage in the interior. The simplistic approach combined with colourful, natural furnishings creates an honest, raw dwelling.

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© Sean Fennessy

“The design is inspired by the surrounding world heritage rainforest and tropical climate. We wanted to create a dwelling that enabled the occupants to live simply in the landscape. Building on an excessively steep site with terrible access was a huge challenge, as was the fact that we built the project ourselves on a relatively modest budget. Favourite part is the cantilevered breakfast booth, it is a great spot to absorb the filtered morning sun light with a coffee. At the same time it’s a sensationally cosy corner to entertain friends and family for casual dinner and drinks.” – Jesse Bennett

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© Sean Fennessy

“Planchonella house is tucked into the rainforest along a ridge edge of Mt Whitfield. The building humbly engages the occupants with the environment. Pockets of space are carefully crafted and detailed, creating places that are both calming and invigorating, with elements of quiet delight.” – Jury citation / Far North Queensland Regional Architecture Awards

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© Sean Fennessy

Living in Planchonella House would be a true delight. Immersed in a luscious rainforest in Far North Queensland, the dwelling embraces its tropical climate and is handcrafted at every scale – from the graceful curves of the concrete to the detail of the timber window framing and inbuilt joinery.

The ideas expressed in the design of this house are pure and whimsical in a way that works. Continuous glazing is sandwiched between two concrete slabs that bend and twist in response to the topography of the site. Raw and honest, the house uses passive, low-tech sustainability strategies in response to prevailing climatic conditions and allows occupants to alter their environment according to how they are using the space.

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© Sean Fennessy

The L-shaped plan divides the house into two wings – one for the main bedroom suite and one for guests/study/washing. The primary living spaces are placed at the pivotal point between the two, where the house hits the ground. The steep site is used to advantage, helping to create a protected, grassed courtyard where you can sit and take in the grandeur of the natural environment. This is a building that will get better with time – as it ages, it will recede back into the landscape and appear as a ruin in the jungle.

For too long, subtropical architecture in Australia has been branded with a timber and tin vernacular. Planchonella House rethinks the subtropical condition. Obvious references to South American architecture are not misplaced given that we share the same latitude. The house is not just an object in the landscape – the building and landscape work together to enclose and expand space in plan and section.

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© Sean Fennessy

In contrast to a “touch the earth lightly” approach, deft site manipulation of the steep terrain renders useable outdoor space at the living level. Clever planning maintains transparency to the landscape without compromising privacy. Courtyard and living areas separate sleeping areas. Modes of occupation are implied rather than prescribed through an articulated plan. This house is refreshingly old fashioned in its passive attitude to climate control.

The thermal mass of a planted roof deals with the subtropical heat, while deep overhangs and operable windows moderate sun penetration and cross-ventilation. The reductive approach to value management should be commended. Removing all finishes creates a potent palette of concrete and glass, which defers to the immediate landscape. The result is a materially raw building robust and ready to be engulfed by the jungle.

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© Sean Fennessy

Jesse Bennett Architect:

Planchonella House was designed with a simple idea in mind- to create a series of joyful spaces to inspire and enrich daily life. Set in tropical north Queensland, the house embraces the heritage rainforest surrounds and utilises experimental passive design methods. The simplistic approach and use of Lo-Fi technologies results in a raw and honest dwelling.

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© Sean Fennessy

Contours of the site ridgeline have formed basis for the playful lines utilised in concrete profiles. As not to protrude out with the ridge, the profile is mirrored and cuts back in to the ridge. Visual amenity from surrounding lower areas has been maintained with this design in that rather than creating a dominant form on the landscape, it tucks back in at the critical highest most revealing point. The wings created each side of the ridge float into the surrounding rainforest and become part of the tree canopy.

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© Sean Fennessy

The large flat roof with generous overhang acts as a rainforest canopy above, minimal walls and columns in between allow for un-obstructed views and moments to be shared with the landscape. This omission of boundaries between inside and outside gives an openness and quality of space that is surreal, living completely within and engulfed by a beautiful landscape. The resolution of plan follows a purely functional approach to use of space, privacy, visual connection and passive design principles.

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© Sean Fennessy

The plan wraps around the courtyard space, which is considered the second hearth (after the kitchen) or perhaps lungs to the entire dwelling. The courtyard contributes much to the house and its occupants, it is an oasis that provides sun, light, ventilation, happiness, activity, visual stimulation, and entertainment. It also provides connection to the surrounding rainforest, connection from one part of the house to another, and acts as the focal node to the promenade experience of moving through the house.

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© Sean Fennessy

Project Data:

Project name: Planchonella House
Location: Planchonella Close, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Coordinates: -16.893697, 145.735154

  • Type By Characteristic: Architects House, Green & Sustainable House
  • Type By Site: Forest House, Hill House
  • Type By Size: Medium House – (201 sqm – 450 sqm)
  • Type By Materials: Glass House

Project Area: 280 sqm
Site Area: 4818 sqm
Construction Period: 2012-2014
Status: Built
Completion Year: 2014


  • 2015 – Australian Houses Awards – Category: Australian House of the Year – Winner
  • 2015 – Australian Houses Awards – Category: New House over 200m2 – Winner
  • 2015 – Australian Institute of Architects Awards – Queensland Architecture Awards – Robin Dods Awards for Residential Architecture – Houses (New) – Winner
  • 2015 – Australian Institute of Architects Awards – Far North Queensland Regional Architecture Awards – Regional Project of the Year
  • 2015 – Australian Institute of Architects Awards – Far North Queensland Regional Architecture Awards – House of the Year
  • 2015 – Australian Institute of Architects Awards – Far North Queensland Regional Architecture Awards – Regional Commendation
  • 2015 – Australian Interior Design Awards – Category: Residential Design – Shortlist

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Jesse Bennett, Anne-Marie Campagnolo
Architects: Jesse Bennett Architect – 5 Planchonella Cl, Cairns City, Queensland 4870, Australia
Interior designer: Anne-Marie Campagnolo
Builder: Jesse Bennett
Engineer: Kel Bruce Engineers
Structural consultant: Kel Bruce Engineers
Text Description: © Courtesy of Jesse Bennett Architect, Australian Houses Awards, Australian Interior Design Awards
Images: © Jesse Bennett Architect, Sean Fennessy

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Planchonella House / Jesse Bennett Architect
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