It is part of the role of the Office of the Victorian Government Architect to promote the value (in the broadest sense of the word) of appropriate design principles and skills that ultimately lead to better design outcomes, and we promote quality in project ambition and realisation. The lens we bring to all our project engagements extends to architecture, landscape architecture and deep considerations about the quality of place, and we promote community awareness and aspiration for these issues.
As an organisation interested in both culture and place, the Office of the Victorian Government Architect deeply regrets the loss of personal and local history that the Wye River and Separation Creek community suffered in the Christmas 2015 bushfires. As many in the community prepare to rebuild, we reflected on our earlier involvement with the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects after the 2009 Black Saturday fires, and proposed a shared architectural contribution to the resettlement activities being led by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).
It was our premise to demonstrate the benefits that good design can bring to housing in landscapes with the characteristics of Wye River and Separation Creek. We saw the opportunity for an exhibition of exemplar projects and information exchange, tapping into the expertise of a group of architects who have worked within the sensitive and particular landscapes of the coast, with its complex challenges of topography and environment. A key component was to engage the community in an informal way, guided by a range of diverse design responses, to assist them in moving forward to rebuild appropriate, compliant, resilient homes and stronger townships, acknowledging too the inherent challenge of a community composed of permanent and transitory residents.
The exhibition curators, Edwards Moore Architects, arranged for six architects to each present a project.
A brief glimpse into the presentations gives an insight into each case study – there is variance in budget, size and design style, but a shared need to respond to the particular challenges of each site – whether geotechnical constraints, bushfire attack level ratings (BAL), or topography – and each project does this differently. Each project also presents an alternative aspiration for a home.
Karri Fire House Ian Weir and Kylie Feher
The Karri Fire House, located on a 15 degree slope in Denmark WA was designed for a professional firefighter and his family. A fire plan and a philosophy that prioritises bushfire resilience above vegetation clearing underpins the design. A sustainable, integrated design response is achieved through a thorough understanding of the Australian Standard for Building in Bushfire Prone Areas. Using the analogy of a bike helmet, the project prompted discussion about the fundamental intent of BAL ratings in protecting the occupants of the home by allowing escape time, and the need to review and renew after a fire event.
House at Big Hill Kerstin Thompson Architects
House at Big Hill is a holiday home for a couple with an extended family, and is part embedded into a sloping site near the Great Ocean Road. Although a bespoke home for its clients, the house demonstrates the value in using the knowledge and skill of local trades to help define project parameters. Features such as unadorned concrete block walls indicate how the house embraces and exploits elements of design and finish that work with the BAL ratings rather than seeing them as added extras.
Slope House Edwards Moore Architects
Having purchased land locally prior to the fire event, Ben Edwards presented his own home, designed to address a challenging 38º slope, difficult site access, and a constrained budget. Highlighting the important contribution of significant early input from the geotechnical engineer to understand the constraints and opportunities of the site, Slope House is designed with consideration of the construction process using modular shipping containers, fully fitted out in a factory environment, transported by road to nearby farmland and finally lifted onto the Wye River site via helicopter.
Skenes Creek House MRTN
Despite its location in an area with environmental risk, in contrast to the impact of a natural fire disaster, the Skenes Creek House is designed to replace a house destroyed by an electrical fire. Land risk and land capability assessments including fire risk factors were identified at the project outset and used as generators for design, form and detail. Orientation and bushfire resilient features are fully integrated to optimise the design and performance outcome and to provide a level of surety should the house be faced with future fire incidents.
Tree House Jackson Clements Burrows
The Tree House is located in the bush fringe of Separation Creek, perched on a steep forested hillside above the Great Ocean Road. The house encouraged discussion of a holistic design approach, where site constraints, access, energy efficiency, challenging site gradient, landscape controls and landslip potential are all used as design generators. The outcome on this site is a limited building envelope, which finds form in a sculptural tree house design response.
Avalon House Archiblox
The Avalon House is a modular pre-fabricated home designed to minimise build and installation time frames. Its proposition highlights that a considered design response can be financially accessible to everyone, even accounting for particular complex site and environment challenges. Located on a sloping site, the house features sustainable commitments and a green roof to minimise rainwater runoff and solar penetration.
The intent of the 6×6 exhibition was informal, but informed, discussion and responsive information exchange, with a provocative glimpse into the world of several clients who had worked closely with an architect to realise their own particular aspirations of home. The exhibition aimed to generate interest, excitement and understanding of designing and building in the type of challenging landscape peculiar to Wye River and Separation Creek. The designs presented and discussed are tested models for future engagement when faced with similar fire impacted sites.
Community response has been gratifying, suggesting the exchange was useful, accessible, practical, informative and above all, positive and exciting.
The OVGA would like to thank Ben Edwards, Ian Weir and Kylie Feher, Kelley Mackay, Antony Martin, Graham Burrows and Bill McCorkell for their input, engaging presentations and generous sharing of intelligence and information.