Modscape home exterior

Sustainable sanctuary

This low-impact, energy-efficient holiday house showcases the significant benefits and limitless design potential of modular construction techniques.

Photo courtesy Modscape


Gabrielle Chariton

Settled unobtrusively on a wild shoreline of Victoria’s Phillip Island, this effortlessly beautiful holiday home evokes the nostalgic charm of Australia’s iconic beachside cottages; with their spare mid-century styling and perpetually sandy floors. At the same time, its progressive design and 21st century sensibilities herald a bold new take on contemporary architectural ingenuity.

The home is constructed – quite simply – from seven prefabricated modular units, assembled into two rectangular forms and anchored to the landscape by an expanse of raw timber decking. Extensive glazing along the front of the structure brings the spectacular ocean views into almost every part of the home, and, from the outside, shimmers with the reflection of the waves. The interiors, pared back to match the stark lines of the exterior, are serene, spacious and airy.

But there’s more to this four-bedroom, 300-square metre holiday house than clean lines and endless ocean views. It’s a high-performance sustainable home, designed and built by modular construction pioneer and decade-long HIA member Modscape. This unique company was established in 2006 by a group of shareholders who value design, innovation and sustainability.

Modscape designs and builds beautiful and functional modular homes and commercial projects across a range of industries – from healthcare and education to hospitality and transport,’ managing director Jan Gyrn says.

Modscape home interior
Full-height glass doors open onto the deck and the 180-degree views
Photo courtesy Modscape
Modscape home exterior
The zinc cladding delivers extreme durability along with a certain visual softness
Photo courtesy Modscape

The company’s innovative approach to building, where the majority of construction work is carried out inside its Melbourne factory, delivers a range of advantages: ‘We view prefabrication as the ultimate means of construction for sustainable homes because we have more control building it in one location, there is less waste and no commuting back and forth to the site,’ Jan explains.

Weather delays and unforeseen complications are virtually eliminated, which means projects can be delivered on predictable timelines and for a fixed cost.

For the Phillip Island project, Modscape’s clients were seeking a quiet sanctuary from the bustle and stress of city life. Jan says that, while this imperative certainly informed the design process, the structure was also shaped in direct response to both the beauty and climatic extremes of its windswept coastal location.

‘Important to the design was the organisation of internal and external living spaces to ensure they provide shelter at different times of the day and year, while still allowing the amazing views to be experienced from within,’ he explains. ‘[The finished home] successfully allows the coastal location to be experienced in all its many states.’

The seamless transitioning between indoors and out is one of the home’s primary functions, underpinning its connection to the natural landscape. While the seaward-facing western elevation of the main house section takes the brunt of the weather, full-height glass doors span its width across the central living and kitchen area, opening onto the deck and the 180-degree views. Large panels of glazing were also incorporated on the northern walls to bring winter sunlight into this living space.

‘We view prefabrication as the ultimate means of construction for sustainable homes’

The second section, placed to the rear, was designed to provide sanctuary from the high winds. It incorporates the garage and entryway, as well as an enclosed, sheltered courtyard and pool area which transitions to the living space via glass doors.

Internally, the 6-star rated home is impervious to external temperature extremes, thanks to the integrity of Modscape’s construction methodologies: ‘All of our eco-friendly homes are based on sustainable design principles that minimise environmental impact, maximise year round comfort and reduce running costs,’ Jan says. ‘The modules are made from fully-welded structural steel frames with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) used in the walls, ceiling and floor. The SIPs generate a thermal property that makes them an ideal choice for extreme climatic conditions.’

In this instance, the site was also carefully analysed for effective orientation (whilst maximising on the view), and passive heating and cooling was optimised using selective window placement to encourage cross-breezes and ventilation, double glazing and climate-appropriate insulation. A Heatmaster open fireplace and Haiku ceiling fans are the only additional heating and cooling systems required. The home isn’t connected to town water, which necessitated the inclusion of an underground 80,000-litre water tank.

Modscape home exterior
‘It was important that the home did not compete with the landscape’
Photo courtesy Modscape
Modscape home interior
An open fireplace and ceiling fans are the only additional heating and cooling systems required
Photo courtesy Modscape

The raw beauty of the site, and its proximity to the ocean, called for particular consideration of the home’s external form. ‘With such an epic location it was important that the home did not compete with the landscape,’ Jan says. The front, ocean-facing section of the house was clad in zinc, which delivers extreme durability along with a certain visual softness. ‘It is not hard to fall in love with zinc thanks to its amazing environmental properties, its unique and luxurious aesthetic appeal and its flexible, durable and efficient performance,’ Jan says.

The rear section is wrapped in beautifully understated vertical shiplap Pacific Teak boards. The timber was chosen for its warmer hues that will complement the zinc as it continues to weather. ‘The materials selected and the building’s form sit as part of the environment, so landscape and architecture are connected.’

Amazingly, the entire structure was built inside Modscape’s factory in just 12 weeks. ‘The controlled factory environment ensured a high level of quality control was maintained and less time was spent onsite,’ Jan says. The home craned onto site in one day, and services were connected over the next fortnight. ‘A few short weeks later, the clients were enjoying the summer break from their new holiday home.’

Phillip Island House at a glance

Energy Rating: 6 stars
Cost: The majority of Modscape homes work out at approximately $2,700–$4,400 + GST per sq/m base cost, plus site and logistics costs
Time taken to build: 12 weeks within factory, one day to install, two weeks onsite. Project was completed December 2016.
Construction: Prefabricated modules comprising steel framing with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) for walls, ceiling and floor.
Inclusions: 80,000-litre underground water storage, timber flooring, Heatmaster open fireplace, Haiku fans.

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