Fish Creek House - exterior

Wall of wonder

Uncompromising in both vision and execution, this award-winning sustainable home is a celebration of modern architecture and innovative construction techniques.

Photo courtesy Ben Hosking

Author

Gabrielle Chariton

Challenge is a word that comes up again and again when discussing Fish Creek House with its builder, Gil Trease. Conceptually, in construction, and even in completion, this sleek piece of architecture takes us a step beyond our conventional notions of housing.

The home was designed to work in synchrony with its impossibly beautiful – yet challenging – southern Victorian site. The awkwardly shaped block is bordered by a country highway along its western boundary and bisected down its length by an electricity easement.

‘There was only a narrow wedge to squeeze a house onto, between the electricity grid and the eastern boundary fence,’ Gil explains. Not ideal, but the owners were sold on the breathtaking views over the Gippsland coastline.

Aaron Roberts and Kim Bridgland from Edition Office were engaged to design the home. They met the challenge with signature flair, creating a long, narrow structure that sprawls along the north-south axis, flanked on three sides by a brick wall that shields the western elevation from the road, the onerous weather, and, like blinkers on a horse, directs the internal focus entirely toward the wild, windswept views.

Cocooned within this brick wall, the home comprises three timber-clad pavilions, intersected with north-facing, suntrap courtyards and linked by glass walkways.

Edition Office ticked every box on the client brief: the house is large enough to accommodate extended family, yet cleverly zoned so that sections can be closed off when not in use. The passive-solar design ensures year-round comfort with a negligible environmental footprint. And the view, of course, is everywhere – ‘glanced or framed or encompassed’.

Trease Builders were brought in once the architects’ plans were council-approved, and the project was ‘built on my office desk’ before so much as a hammer met nail, Gil says.

‘All these jobs are about research, experience and knowledge. To build something like this house you have to identify and resolve any potential problems with the design and materials well before construction begins on site.’

Fish Creek House - exterior
Fish Creek House’s austere geometry of form puts the structural materials and quality of workmanship front and centre
Photo courtesy Ben Hosking
Fish Creek House - interior
Interiors crafted with a rare precision
Photo courtesy Ben Hosking

With this project, ‘there was lots of input from my office about whether certain aspects were structurally achievable and to tidy up the details’.

Fish Creek House’s austere geometry of form puts the structural materials and quality of workmanship front and centre. Despite the home’s apparent simplicity, it was a complex build at a number of levels.

‘It was a difficult structure, primarily constructed from steel and brick,’ Gil explains. Assembling and installing the steelworks, which are featured as a design cue throughout, was logistically and technically demanding: ‘Huge steel window hoods and canopies, all painted black, run right through the house, and they’re all pressed out of 6 or 8mm steel. The entryway is a 10mm steel plate, 3 metres tall and 1.2 metres wide, that pivots open. You can imagine the weight of that.’

Externally, the industrial aesthetic of the steel is counterbalanced by the vertical shadowlines of custom-milled silvertop ash shiplapped cladding, also painted black. The oversize, double-glazed windows that dominate the eastern wall also form part of the structure: ‘They were installed to the outer of the house frame, and project up past the external roofline.’

The star of this project is the brick wall, which extends across an astonishing 50-plus metres and anchors the home into the surrounding landscape. ‘The architects had an image of a 16th century wall in Portugal that they loved, and we had to try and re-create this image,’ Gil says.

Recycled bricks were sourced from Melbourne, and after much trial and error, Gil and his team developed a mortar technique that delivered the requisite weatherbeaten softness and textural warmth. Essentially, this involved lightly parging the excess mortar over the brick face instead of cutting it off. ‘It left this high detail with great shadowline effect,’ Gil says. And yes – ‘there was a lot of complaint from the brickies’.

Fish Creek House - interior
Silvertop ash boards lining the kitchen walls were specially milled in different thicknesses to ensure a seamless finish
Photo courtesy Ben Hosking
Fish Creek House - exterior
Despite the home’s apparent simplicity, it was a complex build
Photo courtesy Ben Hosking

Sustainable approaches informed much of the design and construction, and the result is a house that’s supremely energy-efficient and highly liveable year-round. Running costs are negligible: in winter, the burnished concrete floors absorb solar warmth via the north-facing glazing, and the in-slab hydronic heating system is powered by the wood-fired kitchen oven. The slab, walls and ceiling are heavily insulated, and the windows are all fitted with commercial-grade double glazing.

The interiors – a stripped-back mix of concrete and timber – have been crafted with a rare precision; an uncompromising, millimetre-perfect attention to detail that celebrates the stark beauty of the materials. The silvertop ash boards lining the kitchen walls, for example, were specially milled in different thicknesses to ensure a seamless finish around the shelving and cabinetry. Gil cites this as his favourite aspect of the home: ‘I put a lot of time and effort into the detail where all the different mediums meet, where concrete meets timber and timber meets glass and glass meets cabinetry and so on.’

In his 30-odd years as an HIA member, Gil’s work has garnered many state and national awards. While he hasn’t entered Fish Creek House into this year’s HIA awards, the project has attracted plenty of industry acclaim, and picked up several architecture gongs last year.

But awards and accolades aside, a successful home is about comfort and lifestyle. And after a 12-month intensive build, plagued somewhat by errant weather, the owners were thrilled with Fish Creek House. ‘Great architects will take their clients on this journey of challenge,’ Gil says. ‘If the clients are prepared to stick with the challenge, the outcomes are always spectacular.’ And that certainly holds true in this instance. ‘To see it all unfold was incredible, and they absolutely love living in it.’

Fish Creek House at a glance

Completed: 2016
Cost: $840,000
Energy Rating: Assessed using Alternative Solution V2.6.2.2 energy modelling (BCA 2014)
Roofing: Lysaght Klip-Lok; custom steel plate awnings
External walls: Recycled bricks; silvertop ash shiplapped cladding
Windows and doors: Capral double-glazed; Aneeta Clearstep sashless double-glazed
Internal finishes: Plasterboard; black form ply ceilings; silvertop lining boards
Flooring: Concrete; wool carpet; marmoleum; silvertop ash boards
Energy and water: 7kW solar PV system; 60,000L rainwater tank

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