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[highlight1]  Sorrento House  [/highlight1]

A HUMBLE beach house, the Sorrento House by NMBW Architecture Studio. Sorrento house celebrates the idea of the traditional Australian Beach holiday. A series of flexible and interconnected spaces, the house is a sensitive and deft response to environment and site.The beach house is integral to the Australian way of life – a place to escape the hassles of day-to-day routine and retreat to simple pleasures. This house in Sorrento is just this, but is also intended to be used as a permanent residence in years to come.

An alternative to the beach house holiday is the camping holiday, and this particular home takes cues from the latter. Square in plan, the roof is pitched asymmetrically, with the ridge sloping to follow the ground plane. Like a tent, this house is layered. The inner core of the plan contains the main living and sleeping spaces, with a perimeter zone of semi-enclosed verandahs and vestibules. Floor-to-ceiling openings within this outer layer are lined with flyscreens and external timber shutters. The way in which the shutters are closed draws on the idea of strapping down a tonneau over a trailer – a detail resolved onsite by the builder, demonstrating the strong architect/builder relationship developed throughout the duration of this project. This “strapping down” of the outer layer is also reminiscent of the tent idea. Upon arrival at the house, the outer layer of shutters is opened and then from all parts of the house you can feel the breeze.

Internally, the house is concerned with connections from one space to another. From any one point in the house, there is always a visual connection to another. Even from the upper level, there is a small “cat flap” into the kitchen so that people can talk between floor levels. Most of the rooms have more than one door, as in order to get from one space to another you move through various rooms, as opposed to using a dedicated circulation path. This allows efficiency of space within a tight footprint. Although the house is nestled within the landscape, it is not privy to expansive views like other beach houses. Therefore the design of the house relies on internal views, along with a selection of carefully choreographed views to outside elements.

One of the main considerations of this project was the location of the house within a moderate bushfire zone. Construction was in process during the Black Saturday fires in Victoria of 2009 and this event was a sobering reminder of the importance of bushfire-zone regulations. The most obvious design strategy responding to these conditions is the lifting up of the house onto pilotis. This prevents embers from building up beneath the house and also allows for easy inspection to confirm no embers remain once a fire has passed. The main floor level is always elevated at least 600 millimetres, with the exterior entry deck only engaging with the ground plane at the top of the slope. In turn, this deck is detached from the house itself, preventing the spread of fire to the main structure. The underside of the house is clad in non-combustible metal sheets and all structure at this level is steel or blockwork. The simple form of the building and roof also avoids the trapping of embers. Finally, the exterior perimeter of the building is sealed through flyscreen mesh and shutters. By pushing the mesh to the outside of the building, the number of nooks and crannies is limited. Although there is still contention about how one might design for such a catastrophic event, this house indicates serious consideration of the issues.

“Sorrento House, elegantly designed from an economy of materials, impressed the jury with its inventive system of dividing partitions that fold, retract, swing and slide to define social and personal spaces.”

“Jury chairman John Wardle of John Wardle Architects said the house’s ambitions had crossed the boundaries of the site to the benefit of neighbours. Outlook, wind patterns, the structure of the landscape and the composition of building mass had been negotiated with great care”, he said.

[highlight1]  Project Data  [/highlight1]

Project name: Sorrento House
Location: Sorrento, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Type: Beach House, Holiday House, Wood House
Project Area: 180 sqm
Site Area: 990 m2
Completion Year: 2010

[highlight1]  The people  [/highlight1]

Client / Owner / Developer: Private
Architects: NMBW Architecture Studio
Project Team: Nigel Bertram, Marika Neustupny, Lucinda McLean, Brenton Weisert, Murray Barker, Laura Harper, Andrea Sestan, Alessia Agosti
Builder: On the Rise Construction Services
Engineer: Perrett Simpson Stantin
Landscape Architect: Fiona Brockhoff Landscape Design
Text Description: © Courtesy of Katelin Butler
Images: © Peter Bennetts

[highlight1] Location Map [/highlight1]

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