The modern beach shack that almost turned its back on the view
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The modern beach shack that almost turned its back on the view

This unassuming house emerges from the sand dunes to punch above its weight

By Robyn Willis
Fri, Mar 17, 2023 8:00amGrey Clock 4 min

When architect Kirsty Hewitt first looked along the street where this award-winning Adelaide property is now situated, one thing stood out. 

“There’s just unending empty balconies on this frontage,” she says.

While outdoor spaces are understandable inclusions for properties that enjoy an exceptional view, these had failed to hit the mark in terms of useability.

Because, while the view — the point of convergence for the River Torrens (also known as Karrawirra Parri) and the ocean — is indeed a drawcard, it is also to the west where the sun is strongest.

“It was finding a balance between opening to that view, which was west south west, and managing the weather,” she says. “The sunsets are amazing but in summer, the western coastal frontage is hammered, right where you want the view. 

“It’s also where all the cold weather comes across the ocean, as well as the wind and rain.”

Solving this design puzzle was one of several challenges this block presented for KHAB Architects, which was part of a subdivision.

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“The clients bought the skinny portion that had been cleared and someone else had built a large house on the northern side,” she says.

After some discussion, and considering the planning regulations which limited the height of the property, and the noise from the traffic along the busy street between their block and the water, the clients decided on a design that would be about one third of the size of their neighbour’s home.

“The big draw was the amazing ocean view across this opening where the river enters the ocean,” Hewitt says. “It was on the south side adjoining the reserve along that river, with native vegetation. But it was a 8.5m site and in Adelaide, we’re not used to something that narrow so it was a very skinny site to achieve all the things the clients wanted.”

Instead of excavating into the site as some other properties along the row had done, Hewitt designed a house that looked as though it had emerged out of the sand dune. Working on the Indigenous principle popularised by legendary architect Glenn Murcutt of touching the earth lightly, Hewitt sought to resolve the tension between the desire for the view and the need for privacy with a lightweight building that still delivered the functionality the owners required.

The idea of a balcony facing onto the water was the first thing to go. Instead, Hewitt proposed placing a slightly raised, enclosed living room at the front of the house and positioning a double glazed window to frame the view and minimise noise. The owners took some convincing.

“The clients wanted floor-to-ceiling windows but if we did that, they would see the traffic, and the house next door and it would not emphasise the ocean in the way they imagined,” Hewitt says. “We experimented with masking tape and worked out ways to emphasise the horizon from the living room when you’re seated, and then from the kitchen when you’re standing.”

To create some outdoor living space, Hewitt cut out an internal timber deck with a curved opening above down the southern side of the house that was protected from the wind while acting as a sun trap and providing views of the ocean. 

Corrugated steel has been used extensively to reference the old beach shacks once common along the Australian coastline, as well as to allow for a considerable amount of design flexibility.

“We wanted to create a shell over the parts of the house that needed to be protected,” Hewitt says. “We wanted to use the corrugated material to morph from roof to wall, and then parts of it to peel off to become the fence to the south. 

“In some places it has this strategic ‘bite of the apple’ where it reveals the inner material, which is the timber on the deck inside, like the flesh of the apple.”

The house has been heavily insulated for thermal comfort all year round, while the spaces have been designed to be flexible now, and into the future.

“We wanted to create different qualities with the living spaces. One has the view and the other is the only room in the house that sits on slab with a connection to the rear yard,” she says. “The clients didn’t have children when they came to us but they now have two babies. The kids’ rooms both have lofts, which they can’t use yet, but they will grow into them.”

Hewitt thinks of the house as the new kid on the block that can hold its own against its bolder and brasher neighbours.

“We were so thankful that our clients were on board with the concept of a smaller footprint,” she says. “The budget was not enormous and we wanted the money we had to go into quality rather than quantity.  We wanted to be as clever as we could.”

Images: Peter Barnes



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Property values have experienced strong growth around the country, but there are two highly desirable areas where oversupply is putting downward pressure on sales

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While property values are rising strongly in most markets across Australia, it’s a vastly different story in Victoria and Tasmania, new data from CoreLogic shows. Over the 12 months to May 31, the median house price lifted just 1.8 percent in Melbourne and fell 0.6 percent in regional Victoria. The median dipped 0.1 percent in Hobart and ticked 0.4 percent higher in regional Tasmania. This is in stark contrast to Perth, where values are up 22 percent, and regional Western Australia, up 14.8 percent; as well as Brisbane, up 16.3 percent, and regional Queensland, up 11.8 percent.

CoreLogic Head of Research, Eliza Owen says an oversupply of homes for sale has weakened prices in Victoria and Tasmania, creating buyers’ markets.

On the supply side, there has been more of a build-up in new listings than usual across Victoria, even where home value performance has been relatively soft,” Ms Owen said. Victoria has also had more dwellings completed than any other state and territory in the past 10 years, keeping a lid on price growth. The additional choice in stock means vendors have to bring down their price expectations, and that brings values down.”

Melbourne dwelling values are now four percent below their record high and Hobart dwelling values are 11.5 percent below their record high. Both records were set more than two years ago in March 2022. The oversupply has also affected how long it takes to sell a property. The median days on market is currently 36 in Melbourne and 45 in Hobart compared to a combined capitals median of 27. It takes 55 days to sell in regional Victoria and 64 days in regional Tasmania compared to a combined regional median of 42 days.

Changes in population patterns have also contributed to higher numbers of homes for sale in recent years. Since COVID began in early 2020, thousands of families have left Melbourne because working from home meant they could buy a bigger property in more affordable areas. While many relocated to regional Victoria, a significant proportion left the state altogether, with South-East Queensland a favoured destination. Meantime, Tasmania’s surge in interstate migration during FY21 was short-lived. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the island state has recorded a net loss of residents to other states and territories every quarter since June 2022.

Record overseas migration has more than offset interstate migration losses, thereby keeping Victoria’s and Tasmania’s populations growing. However, the impact of migrants on housing is largely seen in the rental market, so this segment of population gain has done little to support values. Growth in weekly rents has been far stronger than growth in home values over the past year, with rents up 9 percent in Melbourne and 4.8 percent in regional Victoria, and up 1 percent in Hobart and 2.7 percent in regional Tasmania.

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