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Cruise into luxury

Photos: Dave Kulesza

Cruise into luxury

Photos: Dave Kulesza

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Awe-inspiring, unconventional and unforgettable, Black Rock House is a ship-shaped flight of fancy. Get ready to sail away.

Gabrielle Chariton

Author

Contributor to Housing

As housing professionals with decades of experience building architecturally unique homes, the award-winning team at BRY’NOR Constructions have proven their mettle when it comes to meeting complex, high-level design specs. But when they broke ground on a block opposite Port Phillip Bay in Victoria, many of the challenges that lay ahead were uncharted territory. Why? Because the house they were about to build was designed to emulate the distinctive, fluid form of a luxury superyacht, with barely a straight line in sight.

Black Rock House in Victoria was built by HIA member BRY’NOR Constructions
Wall tiles by Neolith Estatuario and Portofino glazed porcelain floor tiles add style to the bathroom

The concept for this architectural gem, known as Black Rock House, came about in response to both a very specific client brief and the particular qualities of the south-facing site and its spectacular 270-degree water views. Architects SAAJ Design worked closely with the clients to design a home that was perfect for entertaining, captured the ocean panorama while offering protection from the region’s climatic extremes and, most importantly, created an illusion of ‘living on the water’. 

BRY’NOR Constructions, which had worked with SAAJ on several previous projects, won the building tender and came on board as the plans were being finessed. Even from this early stage, a strong collaborative partnership between the owners, architect, engineer and builder was forged. 

‘Before construction started, we worked with the engineer trying to formulate different ideas and construction methods to alleviate some costs and speed up processes,’ says Adam Norris, who formed BRY’NOR Constructions with his father, Ron Bryan, and brother, Sam Norris, in 2005. 

The house was designed to emulate the fluid form of a luxe superyacht
Evoking real glamour, Back Rock House is a feat of engineering, design and construction

So, what does a house that feels like a boat actually look like? The striking four-storey building is rounded at the southern, ocean-facing end and sweeps into a dramatic angled ‘prow’ at the northern end.

What the architects describe as ‘nautical language’ is clearly articulated throughout: in the sculptural rendered form of the street-facing elevation, fitted with semicircles of floor-to-ceiling windows; the gracefully curved ceilings and yacht-inspired joinery; and the north-facing terrace, which looks and functions much like a boat deck. Water is visible from every part of the home, thanks to its unusual stepped design and the sculptural roofline that arcs back in layers to reveal slices of glazing. 

Construction started in December 2019. The timing was challenge number one, with works plagued by COVID restrictions until completion (astonishingly, ahead of time) in mid-2021. ‘I still can’t believe we did it,’ Adam says. 

With only five people allowed onsite at a time, they got through thanks to militant planning. At the time, Adam says they were also incredibly grateful for their HIA membership: ‘My father’s been a member since 1985…HIA just gave us so much help and support during COVID – signage, fact sheets, information about restrictions, it made a real difference.’ 

 
The finish is crisp and flawless
The most challenging aspect was the roof

To accommodate the scale of the building, with its lengthy spans and cantilevered sections, the house was primarily constructed from concrete, Hebel and steel. (Due to tricky site access – the house is located on a busy dual-carriageway road – one of the carpenters got his crane licence so they could swing materials onto site as quickly as possible.)

‘The largest of the cantilevers, which protrudes out over the swimming pool, was formed up and then it had to be reinforced with props for about three months while the concrete cured,’ Adam says. 

The building team also had to adapt many of their techniques and work with some materials ‘outside the norm’ to bring the building’s intricate geometry to life. ‘You couldn’t [build to the curved shapes] unless you were on board with an architect…SAAJ were key in double-checking the radii with their computer modelling.’ 

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the build was the roof. It was formed by a complex steel structure with more than 800 shop drawings produced in collaboration between architect, builder and steel contractor/shop drawer. ‘Many junctions were geometrically challenging – we had to get the right radius exact,’ Adam explains.

‘Once we received the shop drawings, the architect put them into a model to ensure we didn’t have anything that was going to foul any junctions.To be honest, it’s amazing we didn’t send one bit of steel back, but it all came together perfectly.’ 

 
‘HIA just gave us so much help and support during COVID’
The building team had to work with materials ‘outside the norm’

For enhanced durability in the marine environment, the fascia was moulded from Corian. ‘It was an unusual choice of material for a fascia and a lot of detail went into that with our Corian installer Pro-Solid. We made templates and had to source specialist fixing methods from America.’ Adam says painstaking detailing also went into the windows and glass balustrade that follow the radius of the home’s semi-circular facade. 

Inside, the curved walls, delicately arched ceiling and decorative elements such as the circular, up-lit ceiling void were achieved by applying two layers of 6mm plasterboard, which is thin and flexible enough to span and bend at the same time. Despite the complexity of form and material throughout the interiors, the finish is crisp and flawless. ‘We don’t compromise on quality…our trades are incredibly skilled people.’

A feat of engineering, design and construction, Black Rock House truly evokes all the glamour and romance of a luxury cruise liner, and Adam says the owners love showing it off. ‘They were the most magnificent people I’ve ever worked for,’ he says, adding they were thrilled when the home won highly commended in the Custom Built Home (over $3 million) at the 2022 HIA Victoria Housing Awards. 

‘The key thing is collaboration – everyone contributed so much on this project – the owners, architect, engineer and all the building trades. The best thing about [the award] is getting recognition and appreciation for them.’ 

Builder

BRY'NOR Constructions

Architect

SAAJ Design

Location

Black Rock, Victoria

Materials:

  • Exterior: Cement render painted in Dulux Lexicon half; Corian Fascia; privacy fins in Monument; commercial section windows; glass balustrade by Chiaroscuro
  • Flooring: porcelain timber print 1200x200mm Plank Oak; porcelain terrazzo print
  • Kitchen: island in Corian and Granite Black Forest; benchtops Neolith Basalt Grey; cabinets in Polytec Venette Black
  • Bathroom: Alberta freestanding stone bath; Sauna HQ custom built cedar-lined sauna; wall tiles by Neolith Estatuario; Portofino glazed porcelain floor tiles; vanity Polytec Venette Vivid White
  • Heating: DPP Hydronic (in slab).

 

First published 21 March 2023

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