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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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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