Australia's natural environment is harsh, unpredictable, and beautiful—conditions that cause inspiration and perspiration among the country's residential architects. “It's a climate that cannot be ignored, and it creates a larger environment that demands utmost respect,” explains Shane Thompson, FRAIA, a principal of Brisbane, Australia-based Bligh Voller Nield.

Mature trees, abundant wildlife, and views to the Brisbane River—these were the assets Thompson plumbed in his design of this 3,207-square-foot house. “I spent a lot of time on the site with my clients,” he says. “I would estimate that we spent five or six hours over three or four visits before we started talking about the design.”

Thompson oriented the house toward the north and east to maximize passive-solar gain and to capture the southeast and northeast breezes. “It also affords privacy to and from adjoining properties while taking advantage of the larger garden areas to the north and east,” he explains. Steel footings raise the house, maintaining the natural terrain and the unfettered movement of animal life. The raised platform also protects the house from flooding during heavy rains.

Thompson wanted a small footprint, so he built up. Cars, storage, and two rainwater-collection tanks occupy the ground floor. The first level contains the main living areas, including a double-height space that opens onto a large north-facing deck. A master bedroom/studio overlooks the two-story living space.

Although building codes and budgetary constraints prevented a more extensive green program, which might have included solar-powered energy and hot water, Thompson managed to eke out a sustainable strategy. “Materials are selected wherever possible for their low embodied energy and are designed for easy reuse in the future,” he says.

All timber products come from plantation-grown sources. An engineered passive-ventilation system (large windows and doors, high-level roof openings, and permeable walls) and the stack effect cool the house. Energy-efficient light fixtures and appliances and water-efficient faucets conserve resources. The sewage line is designed for future connection to a gray water-treatment system when local building codes allow it.

Thompson designed the home to fit not only the site but also the context. Originally a farming area marked by utilitarian agricultural buildings, the region is now a leafy suburb of modernist housing. “This lightweight house and the tradition of contemporary lightweight housing in Australia, along with the respect for the climate, build on those traditions,” he says.

From file "062_ras" entitled "coverstory.qxd" page 01
From file "062_ras" entitled "coverstory.qxd" page 01

Gully House, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Bligh Voller Nield, Brisbane, with Daniel R. Fox Architect, Brisbane

general contractor:
Warfield Construction Services, Kenmore, Queensland

project size:
3,207 square feet

site size:
0.16 acre

construction cost:
Approximately $91 per square foot

David Sandison