Balonne River House

By Fulton Trotter Architects

St George, Queensland

By: Fulton Trotter Architects

Balonne River House, photograph by Steven Douglas. Copyright, all rights reserved.

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

The Balonne River House is a five bedroom home situated on a long, narrow five acre block fronting the Balonne River, just off the main highway leading into St George. The clients have a long standing connection to Fulton Trotter, with their fathers’ house also designed by Fulton Trotter in the 1980’s. Out of a desire to create ‘something different’ in the local context, the Balonne River House was conceived.

The house is sited high on the rural block, ensuring the design captures the perfect northern orientation, cool summer breezes, fantastic panoramic river views, whilst also avoiding recent flood levels. The home focuses on notions of passive design, simplicity, and self-sustainability.

The building form is inspired by the desire to create separate master, living and bedroom wings, whilst ensuring focus on the above principals is maintained. This was achieved through the single room depth of each wing, large cantilevering roofs (constructed out of insulated composite roof panels), an outdoor living space and extensive use of glazing to the north. Furthermore, breezeways clad in polycarbonate sheeting create an interesting transitional link between each wing. The striking red insitu concrete walls to the east and west anchor the delicate and light-weight elements of the wings – the textured formwork mimics the laying of the surrounding red soil, whilst their solidity provides vital thermal massing qualities. Internally, the spaces are flexible and modern. Polished concrete floors and polished hardwood floors contrast against the crisp white walls – not to forget the curved 3 tonne polished concrete bench top, creating a focal heart linking all three wings and acting as a gathering space within the centre of the home.

What problems did you have to solve?

The travel to St George was always fun:

  • The flight to Roma and the two hour drive to St George or
  • You could get on the Wednesday mail run flight to St George, just make sure you make it back to the airport on time in the afternoon or you’ll be waiting til Sunday to fly out again or
  • There is always the big drive which takes so much longer after stopping in at Stanthorpe or Goondiwindi, and you should keep an eye out for the roos! 


Due to the homes rural locality, it was a requirement that the home be self-sufficient – harvesting all of its own water and processing of waste. This was achieved through the inclusion of four 20,000ltr rainwater tanks complete with filter system and its own on site waste water treatment system which reticulates into the property’s garden.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

The Balonne River House by necessity is sustainable, located just off the grid for many of the services that are taken for granted by the urban population. But beyond necessity the building employs passive and mechanical methods to improve the living environment and foot print of the building.

Along the bank of the Balonne the majority of houses are built to face square on to the river, despite its North West aspect. This house sits at almost 45 degrees to the river so that, while it still captures the views to the river, it minimises solar heat gain during the hot summer by having the smallest faces of the building facing west. These faces are also protected by the thermal mass of the red in situ walls that helps delay the heat from transferring into the house.

To maximise access to natural daylight and cross ventilation, the massing of the house is divided into three elongated wings. Each wing is only a single room depth and allows the users to modify the amount of opening to both light and breeze. The single … has been particularly successful in taking advantage of cool breeze flowing across the river and through the house.

Whilst the wings allow access to light and breeze they also allow the entry of sun into the house to be controlled. Large overhangs span beyond the walls allowing access for winter sun but excluding summer sun.

The composite panel roof is used to keep a very simple profile both inside and outside by removing the need for trusses and removing additional supports by increasing the ability to span.

The composite roof also contributes to the sustainability of the project by incorporating the sustainable thickness of insulation with a light roof colour to reflect heat.

The Balonne River House is not connected to mains water on sewerage. Instead it collects its own water and treats its own waste. Four interconnected tanks, each storing 20 000L, collect the rainwater from the wings and garage. This water is first treated before being supplied to all uses within the house. Following the use of the water it is collected and passed through a treatment system which in turn is then used to irrigate areas of the landscaping that are beyond 100m of the river.

Solar energy, though not included at this point, is designed to be included in the future and will be placed on the carport roof which faces the opposite direction to the other roofs to capture the northern sun.