In continuation of last week’s ‘AAA Looks At the Black Dolphin Motel’, we are staying on the fire-ravaged NSW South Coast for a house for the same client, but moreover this ‘Looks At’ is celebrating the kind of wonderful architecture we will lose if we do not have a comprehensive program of external fire sprinklers to protect existing buildings.
An architect presents a concept design to a client for a modest weekender in the bush; double the initially conceived size and disregarding the budget. Surprisingly the response was not rejection but “the house ha(s) to be built”. The solution to make the house affordable was to remove the walls.
Such was the case for Graeme Gunn when he presented his design for Baronda House to David Yencken in 1967. The house, a split levelled five-storey tree house of timber posts and beams, was so striking in its diagrammatic form and relationship to the landscape, a forested plot of land on the south bank of Nelson Inlet, that Yencken would make this dream a reality “somehow or another”.
The then Mumbulla Council (now part of Bega Council) rejected the proposal on the basis that the only enclosure of the house was a series of canvas blinds, noting this would “not prevent the entry of dampness into the building” - ever the finger on the pulse. Windows, walls, and doors were added, and the house design (as built) was given the go ahead.
The holiday house was a fresh postwar typology, a quiet repose from city life and suburban sprawl, for an elite few, and Baronda was among the first weekenders designed in the region by well-known modernist architects.
Gunn had previously worked with Yencken as project architect for the Robin Boyd designed Black Dolphin Motel in 1958-1960. The language developed on that project, of expressed stripped gum columns to support the verandas and exposed brick walls, is extended here to envelop the entire structure. It is a conviction to utilize appropriate locally sourced materials - “if there had been rock it would have been made of rock”, Gunn explains.
The material chosen was an early form of CCA (Copper Chrome Arsenate) impregnated timber that was being pioneered at an experimental facility nearby called Penders, founded by Ken Myer and Roy Grounds. The early materials trialed were the local gum trees, (particularly the Spotted Gum, Corymbia Maculata) used on Baronda, but this proved difficult to manage and was replaced with R. Pine when the system was commercialised as ‘Koppers’.
The timbers and their joints are championed at all points. Posts and beams are visibly bolted, timber boarded walls are left unpainted, as is the bagged local brick, joists are exposed and so is the sarking behind, held tightly by a light steel mesh.
The house is also off grid, as much about the design principles as the drive it takes to get there. Electricity is captured via a stand-alone solar system, it is serviced by bottled gas and a septic tank, and rainwater is collected and drained to an underground tank.
The house is made of a series of cubic masses that reach out, cantilevering in sections towards the north and the panoramic views of the surrounding bushland and Nelson Creek. These ‘boxes’ are rationalised by a grid of stripped timber posts, which shift in parts to expand into balconies and living areas. It is elevated to make the most of these views and protect its occupants from oppressive sandflies.
The fulcrum of the spiraling masses is a locally sourced bagged brick core for the fireplaces on major levels. Running alongside this, a u-shaped timber staircase accesses the five split levels that meander upwards and outwards.
Yencken donated the property in 1979 to the newly established Mimosa Rocks National Park, alongside other properties owned by Roy Grounds and Ken Myers. He leased back the land hosting the house, but the donation was representative of the growing concern over the conservation of natural parkland. Baronda was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register in 2013.
Baronda House is one of a series of mid-century constructions concerned with preservation as well as progress and innovation. Recipient of the RAIA Gold Medal, Graeme Gunn would proceed to contribute designs for Merchant Builders, David Yencken’s and partner John Ridge’s construction firm. The group provided project homes that carried through many of the design principles the two explored at Baronda to the broader population.
Researched and written by Jackson Birrell, an AAA volunteer, photos and edit by Tone Wheeler for the Australian Architecture Association. For more information on the AAA and its activities to promote architecture, go to https://www.architecture.org.au/