Hillside Pavilions at The Ecovillage

By degenhartSHEDD (formerly Design Forum Architects)

Yagoi Place, Currumbin

By: degenhartSHEDD

Green Dot Awards Entry Board

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

This home is designed to fit to the contour of its hillside site as a glove would fit to a hand. Streetscape is a vertually non-existent concept for this site, being accessed by a narrow driveway that deptly winds its way between the garage of its nearest neigbhour and the toe of the hillside, finally arriving at a garage and entry platform that enjoys one of the rare flatter areas within the steeply undulating topogrphy. However, once access has been gained to the site, a view does present itself down the valley and to the northeast, with the balance of the site bounded by natural reserves of the plentify communal open space that provides the green heart of The Ecovillage.

What problems did you have to solve?

The main design challenges for this project consisted of the topography, vehicle access, bushfire concerns, the preservation of an endagered, vulnerable and rare tree and the Architectural and Landcape Code of The Ecovillage that demands a sustainable design outcome.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

As with all projects, there is always a team behind the best outcomes. In the case of this home, that outcome is yet to be realised, but we are certainly hoping that the hard work of this team will result in the finished product at some point in the future. If and when that day comes, it will be the credit of many, not the least of which were our valued clients by bringing to us such a beautiful site and provocative brief. Also contributing to the process was the estate developer, Chris Walton, as he assisted to resolve such issues as the constrained site access, management of the Endangered Vulnerable and Rare (EVR) vegetation, as well as advising on the bushfire trails, all of which impacted the design. We found that Chris' advice and negotiation skills ensured the best environmental outcome was implemented into the design process through the cooperation of many parties.

In addition to those key contributors, there are many others to be mentioned, including the architectural team, consisting of Amy Degenhart, assisted by Juliana Sigut, Kirsty Brosche and Hiro Nakamura of degenhartSHEDD. The structural engineer, Rod Bligh, also had a few challenges to overcome, including a cantilevered garage slab and the long-span timber deck that was positioned above nearly 40,000 litres of rainwater tank. 

Further to the above, the bushfire consultant had an important role to play on this site, and we appreciated the clarity that Eldon Botcher provided in that area, making the process surprisingly straight-forward.

A few others that also contributed to this project included Rob Norman of Symbiosphere, as Rob is the Chairman and chief assessor for the Village Design Panel, the Body Corporate's approval body at The Ecovillage. In addition, Tony Peart of Apeart Building Design provided the environmental certification.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

The design was of extremely high value to this project, weaving a solution within a complex web of site constraints, client aspirations and code requirements.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

The design was based on a series of thin north-facing building modules, like strings on a bow, which were connected by a central spine and configured as necessary to obey site constraints. This spine slopes with the site and accesses all levels of the home, being broken into several terraces linked by modest flights of steps, with these continuous level transitions reflected by the uninterrupted sloping ceiling above. This spine finally terminates at its lower extremity by way of a projecting lookout, the most forward and most elevated point in the design. On the higher end of the site, this spine terminates at the “chicken pavilion’ a chicken coup or storage shed that simultaneously provides the perfect roof orientation and pitch for the location of photovoltaic cells, while also providing the location of rainwater storage tanks that use their elevation to ensure adequate head pressure is provided to the water supply without the aid of a pump.

The next “string” down the hill is the bedroom module, from which the ensuites and bathroom are allowed to bulge out slightly at the back to protect the central drying and bathing deck. The bedrooms are separated from each other by masonry walls that, along with the suspended concrete floors under the living areas, provide significant thermal mass, increasing the energy efficiency of the design.

The whole structure is elegantly poised on the site, touching it ever so lightly at many points, but never incurring any significant cut, even with the garage slab being prominently cantilevered to ensure the retention of nearby trees, thus being a literal embodiment of the principle of “touching the earth lightly” that is a fundamental principle of sustainable design. This principle also facilitated the structuring of the building design around standard building components, a concept that embraces waste minimisation and re-use maximisation. In addition, further sustainable features included the provision of plentiful north-facing glazing, as well as the incorporation of recycled and low Volatile Organic Compound and embodied energy materials, large rainwater tanks, “edible landscaping”, along with colours and finishes that were selected to blend with the environment, all of which combine to produce an overall sustainable design outcome.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

The benefits of this project are primarily for the clients, which were in this case also to be the users. Had the project proceeded, their home would have been functional, comfortable, accessible and set within one of the most beautiful and healthy environments on earth. Naturally, the community would have also benefited, as each new member of the neighbourhood adds a richness of depth to the whole, as well as providing important resources to help share the financial responsibilities of the the plentiful communal areas.

Other general comments

Although the project did not proceed with the original clients, the site has been on-sold with the approved architectural plans, and we hope to see the design materialise despite the shock waves of the global financial crisis that seem to have put a halt to the progress of many a worthy vision.

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