As the technical director of Melbourne-based architecture firm Archier, Josh FitzGerald wanted something special for his own home in Hobart, as well as something he could build himself.
‘On a practical level, we needed a compact space which also allowed for areas of activity and tranquility,’ Josh explains. ‘I wanted a space that was going to be tactile, interesting and momentous.’
So, after coming across some spare land around his partner Millie’s childhood house, the pair set about designing and constructing a lightweight, modular home.
Josh describes the final design as a modest cabin: a simple envelope structure with restrained detailing. Due to its simplicity, the interiors of the house were clad with structural insulated panels (SIPs) to lend some textural variety to the material palette. This contemporary building material consists of two layer of chipped strand board (similar to particle board) wrapped around a central styrofoam sheet – essentially, a textural sheet material, with highly effective built-in insulation, for maximum thermal efficiency.
As the house is totally modular, construction elements needed to be lightweight to ensure the final structure could be easily transportable. A delicate balance between substantial, weighty materials, and lightweight components was therefore essential.
Sandstone flooring slabs were sourced from Timber Stone Tasmania, a sprawling quarry in the Tasmanian Highlands, where the stonemason also helped them source sustainably harvested blue gum for the exterior cladding. Local joiner Tasmanian Custom Joinery crafted the spotted gum kitchen bench, which is reminiscent of a farmhouse dining table, while Wildseed Tasmania – a local supplier specialising in rare native plants – provided all the plantings surrounding the residence. The bathroom basin was even crafted by local ceramicist Lindsey Wherrett! The home’s strong connection to its local landscape is owed to this group of carefully recruited specialists and contractors, who Josh and Millie worked with closely over many months, to bring their home to life.
Josh also devised a meticulous layout, to highlight the interplay of light and shadow within the house. ‘I wanted an entry sequence that would slow you down to experience the different elements of the building, moments of secrecy and discovery all within that short journey,’ explains Josh, citing foundational architecture text by Japanese author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows as his inspiration. The interaction between light and dark – namely that between indoors and out – was paramount to creating exactly the right ambience for such a small footprint. A 7.5m wide window running alongside the kitchen also helps!
‘The design process was non-linear and ongoing, the house will continue to change and patina with time,’ Josh explains. Deep down, it feels as if Josh quietly relishes the fact that Casa Acton is still a work in progress. ‘The house is supposedly complete, but there’s always something else I find to work on!’
See more projects from Archier here.