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An Off-Grid Rural House, Designed For The Future

Sustainable Homes

All architecture projects are specific to their site, but this is especially true for the off-grid house and shed designed by MRTN Architects.

Located on a cattle farm owned by the one family for generations, every element of this project has been informed by its surrounding landscape.

This project is particularly unique, as it was specifically designed with future expansion in mind, calling for similar techniques used in the construction of agricultural sheds, to enable the home to be adapted and added to over time.

25th November, 2019

The Nulla Vale house and shed by MRTN Architects. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

Triangular window sections in the gable ends of the house reference traditional shed construction methods, allowing the structure to be enlarged over time. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

The location of the house takes full advantage of the property’s views. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

The use of salvaged bricks and corrugated roofing from a former shed creates a strong connection to the land. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

Even the bathroom gets a stunning view! Photo – Peter Bennetts.

The material palette references picturesque sheds in the surrounding countryside. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

A perfectly framed view in the home’s bedroom. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

The shed functions as a carport and a place to store wood, PV batteries and general farm equipment. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

The home is oriented to the north east to take advantage of the morning sun. A generous roof overhang provides shade. Photo – Peter Bennetts.

Amelia Barnes
Monday 25th November 2019

‘We laid out a driveway to access the house site and designed it to wind along the natural contours of the land and allow the house to become gradually apparent.’ – Antony Martin

Driving up to this cattle farm in Nulla Vale, Victoria, (located about 80 kilometres north of Melbourne), two identical gable-roofed forms arise from the land, appearing from a distance much like abandoned rural sheds.

Upon closer inspection, one of these buildings is in fact a house made from salvaged bricks and upcycled corrugated roofing, forming a grounded connection to the home’s expansive site.

The revealing journey of arriving at the property is no accident, having actually inspired the entire design by MRTN Architects. ‘The project was informed by the experience of discovering the site, by winding through the land to come across the two clear shapes of the house and shed, that command views all round,’ explains Antony Martin from MRTN Architects. ‘Early design conversations were had about how the shed and house were conceived as wagons that have been travelling along a desired line through the site, and have stopped along the way as if to say, ‘This is where we will stay.’

The home is currently used as a holiday house, while the shed serves as carport, wood store and storage facility for the PV panels and battery required to run the off-grid residence. The exact position of both structures was chosen for their outlook, which takes full advantage of the property’s distant views, and ancient trees and granite outcrops in the foreground. ‘We laid out a driveway to access the house site and designed it to wind along the natural contours of the land and allow the house to become gradually apparent,’ says Antony.

A further driving element of this design is the client’s intention to one day build a larger house on the site, incorporating these two structures. ‘Our brief was to provide the means for habitation of the site, but to do so in a way that suggested an initial occupation of place rather than a fully-fledged domestic setting,’ Antony says. ‘This direction was very informative part of the design process as each plan had to be tested with a range of potential expansion options.’

MRTN approached this challenge by referencing the way rural sheds are built to easily accommodate more storage as required. ‘Skillion roofs are added or gables are extended so that small sheds became larger, rather than demolished and rebuilt. This type of growth is referenced in the triangular window sections in the gable ends of the house,’ Antony says.

The home’s aesthetic derives from the surrounding architectural vernacular and the client’s desire to feel immersed in the land. ‘The key to the brief was that they wanted to create a connection for themselves to the site; to spend time there and gain an understanding and deeper appreciation for a part of the world that they see themselves having a long connection to,’ says Antony. Among the most significant inspirations are the many historic, near-ruin, out buildings and sheds found in this part of Victoria. ‘We didn’t want to replicate a city home environment in the country. Inside the house has a raw, unfinished quality to it that makes it part-home, and part-shed. The feeling of being in shed heightens the experience of being not outside but not quite inside either.’

While small in footprint, the impact of this design is profound, and features sustainable planning that looks brightly to the future. Antony says, ‘There is nothing quite like being outside in the early evening, when the sky to the west becomes an incredible deep blue colour, while inside the fire keeps the home warm. Light is reflected of the ceiling and the roof trusses create these wonderful shadows.’

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net