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The House That Lived

Architecture

Imagine planning and building your dream home over nearly a decade, then just three years after its completion, the area experiences its worst bushfire season on record. 

Home owners Arthur and Yole found themselves in this very scenario when the Currowan fire terrorised the NSW South Coast this summer, damaging and destroying hundreds of properties over 74 days. 

Fortunately, Arthur and Yole were among the lucky ones. Having been built to strict design codes, their house designed by Collins Pennington Architects was barely harmed by the blaze, even when its surrounding trees were singed. 

We spoke to Arthur, Yole and the architects about the project’s design, and what happened the day bushfires threatened to extinguish this much-loved home. 

19th October, 2020

Collins Pennington Architects designed this house on cleared site surrounded by dense forest. Photo – Stefan Postles

The house comprises two self-contained pavilions (to accommodate various overnight guests), separated by an outdoor living space. Photo – Stefan Postles

The house features non-combustible steel, glass and a reinforced concrete block spine wall. Photo – Stefan Postles

The outdoor fireplace and extended chimney are the build’s only vertical elements in order to contrast with the site’s trees. Photo – Stefan Postles

The surrounding spotted gum trees are 20 to 30 metres tall. Photo – Stefan Postles

The design is inspired by the famous, modernist Farnsworth House (1951), located in Illinois. Photo – Stefan Postles

The house located on Clyde River just inland of the NSW South Coast. Photo – Stefan Postles

Ferns surrounding the house. Photo – Stefan Postles

The owners evacuated property when the Currowan fire began to threaten their home. Photo – Alex Burden

When returning to the site weeks later, Yole and Arthur found the entire surrounding area scorched, but apart from some irrigation pipes, the boat shed, and carport, the house itself was unharmed. Photos – Alex Burden

Fortunately, the vegetation has sprung back since these photos were taken early this year. Photo – Alex Burden

Having survived such a ferocious blaze, the owners are confident this house will last many more years. Photo – Alex Burden

Amelia Barnes
Monday 19th October 2020

‘We were watching on the fire app the fire just surrounding our property. It was like a train wreck in slow motion.’

Husband and wife Arthur and Yole are lovers of design, so when they purchased one of the only cleared sites surrounded by dense forest on Clyde River, they intended to create something special. 

The couple purchased the land in 2007, then spent several years planning, waiting, designing, and redesigning before construction commenced. The unique site shrouded in dense forest was partially to blame, calling for multiple regulatory overlays (bushfire, forestry, riparian, and scenic foreshore protection among them) and an ecologist report ensuring sooty owls native to the site would not be harmed. (They weren’t!)

Collins Pennington Architects were engaged to design the house, creating two self-contained pavilions (to accommodate various overnight guests), separated by an outdoor living space. 

The design is inspired by the famous, modernist Farnsworth House (1951), located in Illinois. Yole and Arthur saw their home adopting a similar look, appearing as a ‘sculpture on the hill’ only visible to those in the know.

Collins Pennington Architects were also inspired by the site itself, particularly the huge spotted gum trees with striking trunks. The architects contrasted these trunks’ verticality by using linearity in the pavilion design, deliberately making the outdoor fireplace and extended chimney the build’s only vertical elements. 

The house was made predominately of non-combustible steel, glass and a reinforced concrete block spine wall. ‘All these materials had to be relatively easy to manufacture and bring to the site,’ explains Andrew Collins, director of Collins Pennington. ‘The construction methodology played a big part.’ 

Finally, in 2016, the house was complete, and began serving as Arthur and Yole’s ‘home away from home’ roughly three days a week.

Fast forward to late 2019, Arthur and Yole found themselves in the property when the Currowan fire on the NSW South Coast began to threaten their home. ‘It all sort of happened within minutes,’ Yole recalls. ‘We lost power, we just had to get out. We knew we had to not be there,’ Arthur says. ‘We were watching on the fire app the fire just surrounding our property. It was like a train wreck in slow motion.’ 

Fortunately, the couple were able to safely evacuate the property, and remained hopeful the house would survive.

When returning to the site weeks later, Yole and Arthur found the entire surrounding area scorched, but apart from some irrigation pipes, the boat shed, and carport, the house itself was unharmed. 

Perhaps even more remarkable, is the way the surrounding land has sprung back since the fire. ‘If you took someone there now, they would struggle to see there was a bushfire here,’ Arthur says. The spotted gum trees have since shed their blackened bark, and ferns that burnt to the stump have returned even bigger than before. ‘There’s even more of them because some of them have seeds that explode during fire and germinate in the ash,’ Arthur says. ‘The fires came and went, and life moves on.’ 

Having survived such a ferocious blaze, Yole and Arthur are confident this house will last many more years. ‘This place is a legacy that we’d like to live beyond us into the next generation,’ Yole says. ‘We really wanted something that was going to last the distance, be timeless, and still look like a sculpture on the hill 50 years from now.’

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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