The Elemental House wasn’t always envisaged as an off-grid design. The clients originally approached architect Ben Callery with a brief to create a modest weekender on an exposed piece of land in High Camp, an hour outside of Melbourne. Ben explains ‘their budget wasn’t big, but their brief wasn’t either, so they weren’t misaligned.’
The remote site required a home that reflected the rawness and quietness of the location, and Ben proposed a compact 10m x 10m footprint, with one bedroom, one bathroom and one living room. Perched on the exposed ridge-line, the shelter is elegantly simple, comfortable, and designed in response to its surroundings.
As the design developed, it became evident that an off-grid approach not only aligned with the values of the clients, but also presented an economically sensible option. Ben explains that because of the remote location, getting power installed would have been a significant investment, while going completely off-grid with batteries and solar power was of comparable cost – with no ongoing bills. He highlights ‘not having to pay power bills in the future meant it was an economic decision as much as it was an idealistic, environmental decision.’ The home produces and stores its own power, collects rain water, and treats waste water on site.
This pragmatic approach also informed the design in relation to bush-fire resistance, and dealing with the harsh winds. Ben explains ‘we try to always walk the line where we’re not trying to hide the sustainability stuff, but we’re not trying to make it look like an engineered design that’s purely all solar panels and technology.’ The Elemental house balances the aesthetics of design with liveability, long term sustainability, and appreciation of the raw natural beauty of the site.
The material choices reflect the home’s surroundings, and also comply with the highest fire standards. The external timber is spotted gum, which was sustainably harvested, is bush fire-resistant, and will age gently over time. Inside, the spotted gum-lined ceiling and cabinetry will stay ‘forever young’, and offers a warm contrast to the concrete, and black painted oriented strand board. The dark and cosy warmth of home offers a sense of shelter against the extreme environmental conditions.
Ben’s off-grid design not only won over his clients, but also found a fan in builder James, of Keenan Built. When sharing early concepts for the home on social media, Ben posted a 3D render of the home to his Instagram, and James got in touch saying ‘I want to build that house!’ Ben describes ‘he just fell in love with the concept of this off-grid house on a hill in the middle of nowhere.’
The Elemental House shows what can be achieved when you marry environmental principles with creative problem solving and site-responsive architectural design. And we’re not the only fans of this sleek, elegant house-on-a-hill – this exemplary project was also a finalist in the 2019 Sustainability Awards.
Australian skincare company Sukin do everything they can to ensure our environment is protected. From partnering with Reef Aid to ensure the Great Barrier Reef has a future, to fully offsetting their carbon footprint. Discover the world of natural, and read more about their sustainability efforts at the Sukin Journal.