A Modern Monolith

The beauty of this house is that it might have been there forever.

Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula is often bypassed by visitors in favour of the more famous Mornington Peninsula, so it remains relatively unscathed by development.  Just over an hour's drive from Melbourne, the region is quiet and rural, as Simon Knott knows well.  He spent a great deal of time with collegues from BKK Architects surveying and then building on site with 270-degree views of Corio Bay and Port Phillip Bay to the heads.

"Our clients wanted a hybrid between a city residence and a country retreat, with the amenity of both," Knott says.  "They used the word 'challenging'.  They wanted a house that would suit them in retirement."

The result is the Contour house, a building embedded in the terrain.  Spread over two levels, with a timber deck-cum-ramp around its perimeter, the unusual concrete and shiplap cedar-clad home follows the contours of the block, an apparent ruin or monolith amid the rolling landscape.

"We wanted the form to appear massive in weight," Knott says.  The lightweight cedar, he explains, will eventually turn a slivery grey.  "The weather can be unforgiving.  At times the rain comes in at 45 degrees," he says.  To protect against the rain and provide a more sheltered outdoor space, the architects designed the house in the form of a horseshoe.

"We didn't want to expose the view from the driveway.  This way, you're drawn through a transition space.  It almost feels as though you're leaving the city behind," says BKK's Julian Kosloff.  "It's only when you cross the entry threshold that you appreciate where you are."

The house is divided into four parts.  At one end of the "shoe" is car parking, including a garage.  There's also a mud room, where owners and guests can leave their boots is an important aspect of the design, says Knott, recalling the difficult terrain they encountered.  "The soil is extremely reactive [to rain].  It heaves, expanding by up to 100mm," he says.

Another component of the house includes three guest bedrooms, used by family and friends, together with a bathroom.

The wing is lower than the main living area and is entered via a couple of stairs.

The living wing, which comprises the kitchen, dining, and lounge area, occupies the site's highest point.  The open-plan space, framed with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors, as well as a timber deck, is the touchstone in BKK's design.

It features two-pack painted cupboards in a deep blackish-brown and reclaimed timber flooring from an old wool store in Sydney so there is a rich and earthy patina to the design.  Even some of the windows were angled to accentuate the views.

The fourth part of the design, next to the living areas and on the same level, has a study-library, the main bedroom, ensuite and dressing area.  "We wanted the form to appear abstract in the landscape," Knott says.  "It could look like a house, but we're happy with the analogy of a ruin."

The architects were keen to ensure that each room had a different feel and a unique aspect.  The ceiling heights in the bedrooms vary and each window captures a singular take on the landscape.

The house is also referred to as the inverted courtyard house - the rooms turn their backs on the courtyard, focusing on the bay views ahead.

"It doesn't matter how you label the house.  It's the pleasure the owners derive from it that's important," Knott says.

The Aim
To build a high-quality home that engages with the clients and the site.

Time Frame
Eight months to design; a year to build.

Favourite Features
The courtyard, which functions as another living area.

Insiders' Tip
Spend sufficient time on the site before you put anything on paper.

Green Points

  • There's great thermal mass with the concrete walls in the interior to absorb sunlight
  • High level of insulation
  • All windows are double-glazed
  • Solar hot water system
  • Four 20,000 litre water tanks as well as a grey-water recycling plant that reticulates water into the garden

BKK Architects

David McDonald

Structural Engineer
Design Action

Tom Leggatt

Publication: The Syndey Morning Herald
Date: June 7, 2007
Author: Stephen Crafti
Photography: Shannon McGrath

< back