The project made a promising start, since the corner site earmarked for the build was the most picturesque of the whole block. But it was later discovered to be on an uncontrolled fill site, sitting unwanted with many layers holding no technical capacity for bearing.
Added to the mix was the incredibly steep site, loose underfoot.
‘It actually had a 45-degree slope on two sides,’ he says. ‘Everything we were building on was like mountain goat sort of territory.’
As a result, scaffolding was difficult, as was building the formwork to pour the concrete because there was nothing stable to push against. But then a win: ‘We had an initial design for about 80 concrete bored piers, but we were able to work with the engineers and workshop that down to 52 screw piers. That was one of the biggest value management aspects of the job,’ Damien says.
Construction on the facade was tricky too. ‘We had this huge rammed-earth wall that was the finished facade – it couldn’t be damaged, you couldn’t bump it with anything and you couldn’t lean anything on it, so we had to protect it all the way through,’ he says.
Meticulously handcrafted and matched to the sandstone cliffs nearby, the wall remained unscathed due to temporary structures in place and is now punctuated by two cut-outs. ‘It’s kind of like a turret out of a castle, and that gives you a view down into that reserve,’ Damien explains.
Crucially, it sets up the house with excellent thermal mass and cross ventilation, avoiding the need for any artificial airconditioning. Its floor plan is divided into three pavilions, sitting on screw piles that go down to about 5.5 metres to make the most of the existing trees and view to the creek. Connected by a brise soleil (‘sun breaker’) breezeway, the three pavilions for living, sleeping and bathing each border a central courtyard that connects the house to the landscape.
But it’s the raw and textured breezeway that does the heavy lifting, bringing the outside in with an internal garden, and providing each pavilion with access to fresh, open air, lined by natural timber battens featuring locally sourced FSC Ironbark shiplap cladding.