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Bunker in the bush

Just a stone’s throw from Otago Bay, north of Hobart, this custom build by Cave Constructions rises up from its natural environs and astounds with its compact simplicity.

Bunker in the bush

Just a stone’s throw from Otago Bay, north of Hobart, this custom build by Cave Constructions rises up from its natural environs and astounds with its compact simplicity.

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A study in robust materiality, the House at Otago Bay was designed to not stand out as much as stand resolutely within its native setting on the shores of Tasmania’s Derwent River. But stand out it has, with the completed build gaining national recognition for its Melbourne-based architects Topology Studio

The homeowners’ brief called for a low-maintenance property that maximises passive solar gain and captures the spectacular views of the water and mountains in the distance. The architect’s response was a thickset two-storey brick structure devoid of embellishment, akin to a rectangular prism, that blends into the edging vegetation and features a series of masonry ledges and terraces for the clients to perch on and soak up their surroundings. Externally, the design is all straight lines and angles, with the only distinctly visible curve in the roofline as it sweeps up and out towards the river.

HIA member Andrew Scott, 54, of Cave Constructions – or ‘Cave’ as he is known to everyone (nicknamed so for his caveman-like love of the outdoors) – was the builder chosen to bring the project to life. He has worked in commercial and residential construction for more than 30 years and leads a team of two tradesmen, a (newly-qualified) apprentice and subcontractor. They work predominantly in the Kingsborough and surrounding areas in Hobart on ‘the full spectrum’ of building jobs, from decks, extensions and large renovations to ‘top-end’ builds over $1 million. 

Laura Valic

Editor

the home features a series of masonry ledges and terraces for the clients to perch on and soak up their surroundings. Photo courtesy Paul Hermes
classic caesarstone kitchen benchtop. Photo courtesy Paul Hermes
In 2013, Cave Constructions was recognised with the prestigious HIA–CSR Australian Home of the Year award. It was the first time a Tasmanian builder had won the national title since its introduction decades earlier, a feat that has not been repeated since. Cave says the team is very proud of the accolade and believes this gave them an edge when interviewing for the House at Otago Bay contract. ‘It was a massive bonus because it gave us a lot of credibility,’ he says. 
 

Cave Constructions’ experience would prove to be an asset throughout the 20-month build process. Together with the architects, Cave was able to hash out design alterations when issues would inevitably crop up onsite. ‘There were a couple of details that concerned our suppliers, but we worked our way through it with Topology Studio and found solutions.’
 

Getting the right coloured brick was also an unforeseen hiccup. Inspired by the site, Topology Studio had found the exact earthy shade they were looking for with Adbri Masonry in Victoria but to keep costs down the slimline aggregate blocks had to be locally produced by Adbri in Tasmania. ‘The raw materials differed slightly in texture and colour, so it took about five samples to get the batch to the shade Topology Studio had in mind,’ Cave explains, adding that their perseverance was worth it. ‘To me, blocks don’t have the pizazz of a million dollar house but they’ve proven me wrong. It works in beautifully.’

'warm american oak timber joinery lining the ceilings and soffits continues the reserved colour palette'

As a result the House at Otago Bay is a unique combination of plain and statuesque. The bold blocks are the focal element externally and internally, their effect heightened by the architects’ concerted effort to restrain expressive excess elsewhere. Muted polished concrete floors, simple white tiles in the bathroom, a classic Caesarstone kitchen benchtop, and warm American Oak timber joinery lining the ceilings and soffits continue the reserved interior design and colour palette. 

Every element has been purposefully selected, and whether outside or in, this theme of sturdy functionality carries through. The front of the building is austere in appearance, with only a timber panelled garage door and sheltered entryway visible from the street. While it’s unusual to see an Australian home without windows front on, it effectively guarantees the clients’ privacy while generating intrigue as to what lies beyond.

Once through the narrow front door the home slowly opens up, in height and width, towards the lounge room where floor-to-ceiling fully glazed windows effortlessly frame the outlook and allow in plenty of natural light. ‘At different times and different views, the home almost looks like a bunker and yet from the inside looking out it’s quite inspiring,’ Cave says. But he reveals that the windows were a logistical challenge for the team. ‘The window panels were about 3.6 metres high and had to go in before the roof could go on. The process wasn’t straight-forward and we needed to be five steps ahead in our thinking.’

the design is all straight lines and angles, with the only distinctly visible curve in the roofline. Photo courtesy Paul Hermes

While the house plans were ‘close to perfect for the lay of the land’ and overall ‘quite simple’ – the top level includes the kitchen and living room, second bedroom, bathroom, study and garage, while downstairs the master ensuite covers the lower floor – a long, 27-metre curved wall that follows the contours of the site was another challenge during construction.

‘The design on paper wasn’t complicated…even though a massive curved wall isn’t easy to build!’ Cave explains. ‘To look at it you would think it is simplistic but it wasn’t so simple to build.’ 

For Cave, the home’s concept and the way it performs is ‘absolutely brilliant’ and he is extremely proud of his contributions to the project. ‘The architects’ vision was absolutely spot on and they never diverted from it at all. It really is a credit to them,’ he says.

Bringing homes to life or transforming old into new in a way that makes a difference to people’s lives is one of the reasons Cave jumped from commercial building to start his own business focused on residential construction. He was looking for better job satisfaction and to be proud of the work he produces. 

Now, his 16-year-old son has his sights set on becoming a builder and recently started his apprenticeship in the family business. Cave says the prospect of working with his son has been an incentive for him continuing in the industry. ‘As far as goals go, I’m just really looking forward to the next few years. If I can get Noah to be a competent, neat tradesman and stay around for a few years, well that gets me to 60. Then it might be up to him what he does.’ 

If the House at Otago Bay is any indication, Cave’s son has an excellent model and an impressive legacy to inspire his career. Tasmania’s architectural future will be one to continue watching. 

House at Otago Bay at a glance

Builder

Cave Constructions

Architect

Topology Studio

Location

Hobart

Materials:

  • Roofing: Lysaght Klip-lok 700 Hi-Strength in Colorbond Monument 
  • External walls: Adbri Masonry custom shot-blasted blocks
  • Ceilings and soffits: American Oak timber
  • Flooring: polished concrete 
  • Windows: custom aluminium, powdercoat by GP Glass
  • Doors: custom aluminium cavity sliders in Dulux Electro bronze powdercoat; timber flyscreen doors in Quantum Timber Finishes oil and frameless pivot doors
  • Shade Factor external venetian blind
  • Kitchen: Caesarstone Classico benchtop in ‘Raw Concrete’; Miele integrated fridge; Fisher and Paykel dishwasher; custom joinery in 2-pac finish; custom joinery in oak.
  • Hydronic underfloor heating.