House on the Coast

2014 - 2017
Victoria, Australia

Several schemes pre-empted the final design - a 280sqm single level house pushed into the side of a very steep sand dune in southern Australia. The plan is 'L' shaped and one leg of the 'L' cantilevers away from the slope and projects towards the adjoining national park and the ocean beyond. Le Corbusier's Zurich Pavilion (1960-1965) anticipated a next stage of work from that greatest of all architects. A parasol roof that provided shade and shelter and a baked enamel steel cladding system heralded a rethinking, late in his life, of how Corb thought buildings might be. Completely separated from the spaces underneath, the parasol is a good piece of environmental design. Decades after proposing (in his seminal text Vers Une Architecture) that 'the house is a machine for living in' the introduction by Corb of a cladding system (capable of mass production) that accelerated construction times, combined with repetitive steel mullions - supporting both cladding and glazing - expanded on the work of the French engineer Jean Prouve and opened the door for the young stars of the day - Foster, Rogers and Piano - to literally change the way we all (consciously or sub consciously) think about architecture. The difference in approach between the Zurich Pavilion and the Monastery of La Tourette, completed in the same year that work commenced on the pavilion (1953-1960) cannot be overstated.

This has been the decade of the smart phone. (The extraordinary capability of the smart phone to connect us all has emerged concurrent with the most vile and violent moment of self immolation in the history of humanity.) Nearly two decades into the 21st century a climate sceptic rules the free world while a short fat despot seems to have his finger perpetually on the button. Today, paradoxically, the smart phone increases connectivity and decreases it. I'm interested in how this social force might inform the design of a single family dwelling. In this house the following systems can be controlled remotely via a smart phone:
- heating
- garden irrigation
- facade operation
- swimming pool heating
- security
- master switching
- lighting
- entertainment systems
- solar cell/battery data collection

In other words our client can physically interact with the house without actually being in occupation. This symbiosis has direct implications on the environment and in particular energy consumption, for example, and enables the owner to play an active role in protecting the planet while enhancing their personal comfort and reducing day to day running costs. The smart phone mediates this complex relationship between owner and house and the house becomes more device-like as a result. I'm uncertain as to whether the benefits of this enhanced capacity to nuance outweigh the additional burden that new technology inevitably seems to bring. I've often thought that 'smart' phone is oxymoronic however its influence on society is irreversible and as architects we are charged with the responsibility to closely observe society and interpret (in built form) the physical and psychological needs of the community. The complexity of this house lies in the dichotomy of aspiring to a technologically sophisticated building and the equally compelling desire for respite (from work and day to day living, including the smart phone) that a weekend house by the beach provides. In this instance two things protect these potentially competing objectives from negating each other. One is the overwhelmingly beautiful site. Embedded in the side of a steep, heavily vegetated dune the house is at once protected by and directly engaged with the topography of the site. The interaction with Nature is ensured even as the building leaves the ground in its cantilevered bedroom wing. In time the building's shade-skin will weather to match the grey of the surrounding coastal ti-tree as Nature begins to take back what was taken from her. The second is in the client's intelligence to understand the complex balance between architecture and nature and to support a design that ensures this equilibrium.
As I was designing this climate modifying device-house I was reminded of Le Corbusier and realised that I was making, not 'a machine for living in' but rather 'a device for living with.'