House for maximum passive thermal performance

THE HILLTOP SITE NEAR SEYMOUR in central Victoria seemed like the perfect place for a country holiday house. ON one side the land sloped gently towards the river through a stand of red gum trees while, on the other farmland rolled away to the east. Magnificent views and open countryside gave a feeling of peace and isolation.

However, the same qualities that made the site so appealing also left it open to the harsh effects of the elements, including wind and extremes of temperature. Swaney Draper Architects had to find a way of capturing nature’s bounty while minirnising its more unpleasant characteristics.

Because of the extreme seasons that can occur in this part of Victoria, special consideration had to he given to the siting and orientation of the house. It has been positioned to one side of the hilltop, and its graded form follows the slope of the site, with a single pitch roof slanting down from rear to front. The rear of the section has been cut into the hillside, allowing the house to nestle closely against it.

The house has been oriented for maximum passive thermal performance, with large windows to enhance this effect. In winter, the central fireplace can be supplemented by gas ducted heating. The house is not mechanically cooled, relying on natural ventilation and sunshades to get through the hot dry summer Inside, the main focus of the house is a large, tall central room, where all of the family activities take place. It is surrounded by windows on three sides, with timber shades framing views of the red gum trees and river beyond. A massive fireplace in the middle of this room provides both a real and symbolic focus for the family living areas. It’s a space that can be intimate or expansive: you can imagine pulling up a chair close to the fire on a wintry afternoon, or throwing open the doors to the deck on a summer evening.

To the rear of this central space, the rest of the house is contained in a two storey block. The kitchen, laundry and garage are on the lower level, while the upper level bedrooms and bathrooms open onto a gallery which overlooks the living room.

Externally, the unhurried holiday lifestyle is reflected in an uncomplicated structure. Lightweight timber and steel framing have been used to create simple lines that eschew ornamentation. Surfaces are either glazed or clad in cedar with monochrome paint.

This is a house to escape to. Its quiet, spacious interiors are welcoming and restful, while the wide open space that surrounds the building beckons you outside to take in the restorative country air. The laid back lifestyle that it provides is the perfect antidote to the pace of city living.

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