BDAV 2012 Building Design Of The Year

A contemporary three bedroom home with sustainability at its core achieves five awards in the BDAV’s 2012 Building Design Award including the coveted BDAV Building Design of the Year

A contemporary three bedroom home in Ulverstone, Tasmania, with sustainability at its core, and which features an innovative design that offers an ‘out there’ experience, has received five awards in the Building Designers Association of Victoria’s 2012 Building Design Awards for Clever Design, including the coveted BDAV Building Design of the Year Award.

A steeply sloping site with extensive estuary views drives this design, which is an exercise in minimalism and precision. Sharp skillion roof forms float over a dynamic arrangement of forms which are partially dug into the ground at the approach, only to erupt into a spectacular cantilevered living area and associated deck which shoot out across the contours of the site to take advantage of both north light and the 180 degree views.

Bedroom areas are laid out perpendicular to the form containing the entry and living areas, and are safely anchored in the ground. An external space formed by rough textured blade walls and flying steel beams provides a private garden accessible from the main ensuite and, along with polished timber decking, enhances the legibility of the entry.

Mike Cleaver of Clever Design is thoroughly at ease with his materials. Steel and glass are expertly detailed, ensuring that the dynamism of the external forms runs through the interior volumes, and ceilings appear to float over walls. The interiors are suitably spare, and are wholly informed by the structure, with the open plan kitchen elements stopping short of the ceiling so as not to interrupt the flow of space. Gleaming polished concrete floors provide a backdrop to shining white cabinetry and a cantilevered island bench. Frameless panels of translucent glass slide to provide privacy as required, and to allow for views throughout the house.

The project also won the award for Most Innovative Use of Steel. The steel used here, both to mould the spine and form – so integral to its structural integrity – also brings to life an amazing creation. Tensioned stainless steel rods serve to brace the steel frame. Lightweight Colorbond roofing adds to the form. This modern dwelling, referred to as a ‘stealth fighter’ by its creators does, indeed, give you the impression that you are flying in the clouds, and reminds us once again that steel can be used not only as a structural element, but can add another dimension to the aesthetics and usability of a building.

The totality of this design is testament to Clever Design’s skills. The execution is exceptional, and all elements have been carefully considered and work together to provide a beautifully resolved building with no extraneous detail. Most of all, the house illustrates the designer’s ability to conceive a building as not just a shelter, but as an experience, earning the project a worthy award for Building Design of the Year.

Project Background

On a steeply, sloping site and projected towards the view of Tasmania’s north-western coastline, the clients’ brief was for a contemporary three bedroom home with sustainability at the core. Their utmost priorities were to expose the view from all rooms. They also wanted a sheltered, quiet place to relax for the adults, as well as pen plan living, gymnasium, home office, ‘chill-out’ Zen garden, large laundry and double car garage. Zoning was critical to the functioning of the home, allowing for a separate home office without interfering with the family wing and, importantly, for adolescents’ independent sleeping zone.

Appearing in plan like a ‘stealth fighter’, the projected central living hub is suspended over an extraordinary steeply falling former pastoral site overlooking the township of Ulverstone, Tasmania and the vast rugged coastal line. Whilst the brief was straightforward, the siting was far more challenging. With its steep slope facing the expansive eastern views, the site’s natural contours are aligned northwest/southwest requiring strategic placement of the building form to enable it to capture northern orientation in order to achieve passive solar gain. Taking cues from a local landmark town clock and responding to the micro-climate of the site, the living hub projected out across the contour lines, with its cranked deck, facilitates all the living spaces to northern orientation. This design strategy provided the ability to peel open the façade for maximum passive solar gain, whilst the western building line is grounded at the natural contours.

The home is composed of two dominant volumes. In addition to the living hub, the western wing with low-rising multiple roof forms contains the sleeping zones and runs almost perpendicular to the hub, aligning with the natural contour line. This design strategy resolves the critical zoning requirements, with the adults and adolescents on opposing wings.

To achieve the dramatic cantilever, the structural system uses steel columns and tensioned stainless steel rods. Whilst the cantilevered living hub is defined by steel and expansive double glazing, the southwest façade is more robust and angular with its multiple skillion roofs and triangulated geometries purposefully designed to bring light deep into the interior for maximum solar gain in the winter months.

The centrally placed entrance is framed by two wedge-shaped forms that protrude into the rear courtyard/enclosed Zen garden, providing privacy for the adults. Beyond this, the drama of the house is revealed as there is a natural inclination to be drawn through to the main living, dining and kitchen spaces of the entirely transparent cantilevered wing that exposes the awe-inspiring coastal view well beyond imagination. It is this experience, 7.5 metres above terra-firma, from where you can truly appreciate the structural integrity of the house.

Reflecting the minimalist philosophy of the home, the kitchen is a key design element that is both aesthetic and functional to the clients’ needs. The neutral restrained palette is enhanced by the contrasting and striking form, complementing the exterior and contributing to the play of space and light. Correspondingly, seamless ceilings create spatial illusions extending through to the vista of the large cantilevered wing. The fully transformable space also functions as alfresco dining and entertaining areas.

The sleek, deluxe bathroom design integ-rates effortlessly with the external form interconnecting this space to a private Zen Garden whilst the clients enjoy the luxury of their retreat from the free-standing bath. Whilst the space evokes nature and ambience, its dual purpose is to maintain privacy by obstructing visibility externally. Articulated joinery details of all junctions, surfaces and elements are visually balanced with the material palette.

The clean lines of this home are clearly modernistic, softened by the minimalistic selection of materials, textures and colours. Externally, the lightweight composite cladding of the suspended façade creates an optical illusion as sunlight reflects off the sheen of grey-blue metallic Alucobond. In contrast, the earth textured façades, jarrah decking and horizontal battening bring the structure to terra-firma.

Environmental responsiveness is integral to the design. Circulation spaces are cleverly utilised as the sun, trapped in varying height core-filled textured block-work walls, absorbs the free solar gain for release later in the evening. Thermal efficiency is also aided by the licorice-coloured polished concrete floor’s ability to store heat. Additionally, internal glazed partitions recessed into the dwarf walls of the bedrooms/sunspace affords borrowed views with privacy controlled by automated blinds. Rainwater tanks are concealed in the sub-floor spaces, providing ample storage capacity and harvesting of rainwater even though reticulated water is available. All waste water is treated and recycled on the property.

The impetus for the design, centred on the innovative structure, articulates the expressive quality of the use of steel, glass, textures and material whilst addressing thermal efficiency and sustainability imperatives. It belies the technical challenges that were required for this resolve. The ambitious interior solution is the result of the two dominant volumes designed to circumscribe the vista from all rooms and resolve the functionality of the zoning requirements. Meticulously detailed, the spatial interconnectivity has produced an interesting procession of dynamic spaces and its ‘out there’ presence undisputedly punctuates the landscape.

The project won the following Awards:

  • Building Design of the Year 2012
  • Residential Design – New Houses: $500K-$1M construction cost
  • Most Innovative Use of Steel

And received commendations for

  • Interior Design–Residential
  • Most Innovative Kitchen Design


Designer:  Clever Design
Builder:  Leigh Glover
Photographer:  Richard Eastwood

Living rooms with views ‘to die for’
Living rooms with views ‘to die for’ - Images: Richard Eastwood