Projects   Residential – House of the Month – July 2006
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Pirates Bay House
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Photo © Brett Boardman

Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania
Stuart Tanner Architects

By Ingrid Spencer

For architect Stuart Tanner, growing up in Tasmania—surfing, diving, and bushwalking through the Australian state’s many rainforests—has given him a love of the land and has strongly influenced his architecture. The Pirates Bay House, a small coastal retreat the Tasmanian-based architect designed near Eaglehawk Neck on Tasmania’s Tasman Peninsula, reflects his awe. “Ultimately, anything you build here is engulfed by the landscape,” he says. “I’m completely humbled by it.”

Tasmania, an island roughly the size of West Virginia located about 150 miles south east of mainland Australia, has a rich history, though is perhaps best known for its remarkably unspoiled natural landscape. With the rear of the Pirates Bay House site abutting the forested edge of Tasman National Park, Tanner’s client had a piece of prime coastal property. The site itself, however, was awkward—a narrow, steep wedge above a road that runs along a cliff escarpment above Pirates Bay Beach.

“I saw an opportunity to connect the forest with the ocean,” says Tanner about the house, which is surrounded by Tasmanian blue-gum trees and wild vegetation. With the help of local engineer Jim Gandy, Tanner used suspension-bridge technology to design the house as a hovering platform, with a minimum footprint, that seems to reach out in a grand gesture toward the sea. An existing driveway became a place to park under the house, while the support wall served to hide plumbing.

Midway through design process, however, Tanner’s clients decided that the two-bedroom retreat would be too small for their growing family, so they sold the site. Happily, the clients that purchased the land were not only excited by the design, they were willing to take it a few steps further, as a high-end real-estate venture. “My original clients envisioned the place to be more like a high-tech shack,” says Tanner, “with industrial materials and a colder, more stark look. The new clients were willing to give the house a different feel. We were able to bring in more rich elements, like blackwood cladding on the exterior.”

With two generous bedrooms, one bathroom, and a large open kitchen and living area, every element of the 1,184-square-foot home is simple, flexible, functional, and elegant. Even a stair was considered an unnecessary element, as the design offers the entrance in the rear of the building where it connects to the site, and where procession along the platform reinforces the “bridge journey.” The platform is suspended midway by two steel straps, and thin steel rods attached to footings provide more support to the entire structure. The building is oriented with a north/south axis, and huge windows ensure maximum visual connection to the landscape, as does the deck, which wraps three sides of the home. Careful attention was paid to keep the house sustainable, including passive methods such as cross ventilation, cedar louvers, and exterior sunscreens on windows, as well as active tactics like an on-site waste management system and gray-water recycling, fresh water catchment and storage, use of energy saving lighting, heating, and appliances, and smart use of insulation in floors, walls, and ceiling to create good thermal control.

Because the site was such a difficult one to reach, Tanner chose to prefabricate some of the home’s steel structure in nearby Hobart. “I couldn’t have people out there framing for weeks on end,” he says. “By using a partially prefab structure, we got the steel framing up in two days.”

Tanner’s clients sold the home to the retired dean of the University of Tasmania’s School of Fine Arts and his family, and according to the architect, who visits the site frequently, they are constantly surprised by the natural drama they witness from the house. “He’ll tell me about the black cockatoos sitting in a tree right outside the window,” says Tanner about the home’s owner, “or the joy of living with the changing of the light from day to moonrise.” Tanner agrees that with this home, no matter how compelling the structure, it’s the natural landscape that steals the show.

Gross square footage:
1,184 sq. ft. + 592 sq. ft. deck area

View complete specs

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