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Pushing boundaries

Tom RoschiPhotography & Jonathan VDK 

Pushing boundaries

Tom RoschiPhotography & Jonathan VDK 
{{ tag.label }} {{ tag.label }} $vuetify.icons.faTimes
When a South Australian firm constructed an Adelaide home during the pandemic, they managed to incorporate distinctive elements that tested their problem-solving abilities.

Ian Bushnell

Content Writer
Curves. Architects love them. But they can be trying for builders, especially when there’s minimal guidance about bringing them into being. 

That was just one of the challenges Adelaide builder BTF Constructions faced with an architecturally designed home in Adelaide. It included a number of other distinctive elements that required precision planning and tested the firm’s problem-solving abilities. 

Throw in the fact that it was built during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no wonder the BTF Constructions crew is immensely proud of the result, which was rewarded with the HIA SALIFE People’s Choice Award.
Discover the story of this Adelaide home built by BTF Constructions.

The 286-square-metre courtyard home features curved brick walls, curved fascia and curved aluminium windows, a porthole front window, pop-up ceilings to harvest natural light, exposed rafters that extend seamlessly out from the living area over a rear deck, a timber batten facade that includes the tilt garage door, poured terrazzo bathroom and laundry floors, Australian chestnut flooring and Lignapal timber veneer joinery.

Director Brett Filsell says the project was technically complex with highly detailed design features. This required conceptualising the different elements from drawings and 3D renders. Not that BTF Constructions was new to such demanding jobs, having previously worked with the architect, Sans-Arc Studio, and impressing it with its capability.

Head of the Business Elise Heyes recalls how the project posed some questions.

‘When the project landed on our desk, there was an element of “How are we going to build this?”,’ she says. COVID prevented any expectation of on-site interaction with the Melbourne-based architect, who was limited to screen updates.

This was a mixed blessing. ‘It gave us a little freedom to do what we wanted but still stay within the design intent,’ Brett says. ‘But a project of that nature, to lose the architect’s input, added to the challenge.’ However, Brett entrusted in his knowledge and the team around him.

The clients lived nearby, and Brett developed a strong relationship with them, which he says was key to meeting client expectations.

He says the curves were one of the most significant challenges, with manufacturers saying it was uncharted territory for their products, and in one case, products were not even specified. The main issue was the design being very specific about the radius of the curves, making them quite tight. ‘We had to push boundaries, creating some of those curves,’ says Brett.

‘It was a collective effort. The relations we have built with people over time allowed us to be able to work together successfully,’ says Brett Filsell.

This involved critical research, trial and error, and using different methods and products, yet still achieving what the architect intended. For the Weathertex cladding on the rear wall, Brett and his carpenter devised an innovative method involving laminated ply top and bottom plates with extra fixings to form the curved wall framing substrate.

After applying the cladding, it was clamped for an extended period to achieve a strong bond. ‘We fixed it to the wall and it stood the test of time.’

For the curved front fascia on the brick pod pop-up, Brett tried several materials of differing thicknesses without success before settling on thin marine ply, laminating two 6mm sheets together to make the curve. ‘It was so far from where we actually started,’ he says. ‘Out of the challenges came some really good results.’

Brett faced a different problem with the exposed rafters and Weathertex ceiling cladding, where rushing in could have been disastrous. Details matter, especially when so many different aspects overlap. He says the rafters were to flow continuously from inside the house to the outside courtyard and had to align with the edge of the adjoining cabinetry, forming the kitchen and joinery bulkheads at either end of the room.

‘The more we looked at it, the more little details we found. While we had to progress ahead, we didn’t want to miss these details and get them wrong, so we spent a lot of time pre-planning,’ he says.

The problem was also how to install the ceiling cladding, and corresponding work such as internal services, roof framing and roofing. ‘At steel shop drawing stage prior to the slab going down, we had to work out where those rafters were going because over the top of a wall of glass was steel,’ Brett says. ‘We had to work out where to put the cleats on that steel, then get the rafters to work all the way through and space them out evenly.’

The clients lived nearby, and Brett developed a strong relationship with them.
‘Everyone involved did something they hadn’t done before or hadn’t done for some time.’

The ceiling panels were fixed to the rafters before the roof went on, followed by installing services in a small frantic window where the panels could not get wet. ‘Brett was always on the game about it,’ says Elise.

If some things weren’t working, Brett changed them, such as making a new custom tilt door for the garage, which also formed part of the evenly spaced cedar batten facade. There was a limit to how much weight the door could take, so he researched this aspect to ensure it would work. As a result, he added extra heavy-duty springs and substituted lighter cladding.

COVID-19 disruptions extended the build time, completing in July 2022, but the project came in on budget due to tight management. Brett says this type of project is always a learning curve, but the importance of relationships – with clients, architects, trades and suppliers – was critical.

‘It was a collective effort,’ he says. ‘The relations we have built with people over time allowed us to be able to work together successfully.’

Everybody came away with a real sense of accomplishment. ‘Everyone involved did something they hadn’t done before or hadn’t done for some time,’ Brett says.

Brett says the curves were one of the most significant challenges, with manufacturers saying it was uncharted territory for their products.

Adelaide House at a glance

Builder

BTF Constructions

Architect

Sans-Arc Studio

Interior design

HIA-SA Commendation Custom New Home ($550-$1m), 2023 HIA SALIFE People’s Choice Award

Location

Adelaide, SA

Materials

First published on 3 April 2024

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