Bach to basics
For a design-forward architectural duo, the basics of beach-house living, and views in all directions, were the starting point for an unusual and innovative Australian commission.
“Beach houses exist for simple relaxation, for downtime with family and friends. They should be an escape from the city, and provide contrast from day-to-day normality.” So believe Australian architects Andrew Maynard and Mark Austin of Melbourne’s Austin Maynard Architects. So it was fortuitous for the duo, whose work is characterized by design and sustainability innovation, when they were approached by a client wanting to build a holiday home in St Andrews Beach on the Mornington Peninsula. Bucking the growing national trend for oversized and ostentatious holiday homes, the client’s brief was simple: a modest, small and basic shack, or shed. A ‘bach’ house – a New Zealand word used to describe rough and ready beach shacks built mostly in the mid-century from found materials. It was to maximize the views of the peninsula, an underdeveloped area with neither shopping strip nor restaurants, just a corner store and brewery – a destination offering the serenity and seclusion of a wildly beautiful coastline, and some of the most celebrated residential architecture in Australia. What the client got from Andrew and Mark was an award-winning circular home; one that’s less than five metres in radius at that.
The house stands alone amongst the rugged dunes and scrub. With no neighbouring forms to respond to, the shape grew from a response to the views, which extend in all directions and with no dominant focal point. Another factor that determined its shape was the owner’s insistence on the simplification of interior spaces. “A house with no corridors and no wasted space lends itself to a circular design,” comment the architects on their structural solution. “With a standard home arrangement, everyone knows how to use the spaces; a circular home serves to both engage and liberate.” The plan of the house uses rational and precise geometry, and the internal spaces not only adhere to the rules of form, but also ultimately provide adaptable, snug spaces. At its core, a spiral staircase provides light and air.
The ground floor comprises a kitchen, living and dining area, with a bathroom and laundry. Upstairs the sleeping area offers the ultimate in beach house informality. Unlike a traditional bedroom layout, the sleeping quarters are essentially one bunkroom separated by curtains. “Rather than design a series of sealed bedrooms, each with an en-suite, the sleeping zone is casual and relaxed, where floor space is the only limitation,” says Mark of their unusual interpretation, “and when that limitation is reached, guests are invited to pitch a tent on the soft sand outside and use the house as a central hub!”
An open deck area, within the structure, unites the spaces when the bi-fold doors are opened. “Most Australians want a deck or veranda. Instead of adding something to the outside, we ‘eroded’ the deck out of the form itself, creating a two-story space that’s both outside and inside,” adds Andrew. This is not a slick beach house, but a relaxed and informal escape, built with materials – predominantly silvertop ash and blackbutt timber – that will patina and weather. Solar panels and double-glazed windows regulate indoor temperatures, and rainwater is used to flush toilets and water the garden.
In its most modest form, the home provides everything one would need and want in a beach house. It is super low maintenance, relatively self-sustaining and basic, but not without simple creature comforts. “I’ve always quite enjoyed work but now I find myself longing for the weekend so we can head down and chill,” adds the owner, of his circle in the sand.