‘Family of six’ and ‘affordable’ are not usually words that are uttered in the same sentence. And yet, that was the brief received by Irons McDuff Architecture prior to the design of Riverwalk.

Located in the coastal town of Barwon Heads, Victoria – just 100 metres from Barwon River – the site specified for the build was rich in natural assets. It was also rich in architectural challenges.

The block sloped quite significantly towards the rear, where a neighbouring property sat and from which distance needed to be kept. As it often happens, the natural setting also came with fire risk. It was important in such a setting that the property built there be sustainable, but then there was the issue of the scant budget.

Out of this mixed bag Irons McDuff pulled a home that was affordable, sustainable, spacious, nature-rich and complementary to its context. Riverwalk is a simple series of gabled forms made out of sustainably-sourced building and construction materials (the vast majority of which are wooden) that contains ample active space for some very active young boys.

From the architect:

What were the key challenges?

The block sloped somewhat towards the rear, and this resulted in some very long concrete stumps which were cut down considerably so as not to overly impede on the rear neighbouring property.

The budget was a challenge. However, the builder came on board during the design phase and this allowed some great planning and cost-cutting prior to the build.

[The] bushfire rating, though small, challenged the desire for a simple coastal timber dwelling. The slight elevation of the rear pavilions above ground and the [use] of sugar gum cladding and NSW cypress pine windows assisted in meeting the requirement.

What are the sustainability features?

Despite some challenges often presented with timber-frame and clad dwellings, the house achieves an energy rating of 6.5 stars [with extensive insulation throughout].

It is a small house [that achieves] efficiency in construction and materials. Excessive operational energy requirement [is also reduced with] carefully located double-glazed windows throughout, [which] allow generous light and winter sun while maintaining protection from the heat of the summer sun. More generous openings engage with the landscape and [connect] to external activities.

Timber cladding is sourced regenerative sugar gum [that was] milled by a sustainable farmers’ co-operative. Natural timber windows are cypress pine. The solar hot water system and large water tank service the toilets and outdoor taps.

What was the brief?

The brief was for a low-budget, architecturally-crafted home on a small block of 500sqm [that took] advantage of the westerly orientation and need for yard space. An important requirement was for separate living areas and a small overall footprint.

Rather than [opt for] the [current trend of] open-plan living, the client wanted to separate the main kitchen [and] dining [areas] with the living space while retaining the feeling of being visually connected. This is achieved through the glass link and large glass windows between the two pavilions.

Connection to the community – via kitchen to street – [is achieved by a] slot window along [the] kitchen bench. [This] allows some casual waves [to passers-by through the window] – nearly Mrs Mangle-like – [while] retaining privacy.

The carport to one side allows storage [of] toys [and] bikes and completes the courtyard garden area to provide a sense of open and secure play area.

How is the project unique?

The project encapsulates two different building pavilions with a glass link connection. The full-height windows and high-pitched roof generate an enormous amount of sunlight, and [create] a wonderfully liveable home [where] the client [can both] work and live.

Key products used:

The front pavilion is clad in locally-sourced sugar gum timber, while the rear pavilion – [which] forms an L-shape – comprises black-stained Shadowclad. The natural sugar gum provides a backdrop to the native, landscaped street front.

The two pavilions are connected by a glass link [that separates] the kitchen and dining [areas] from the living zone [while] providing a clear view through to each area. The rear Shadowclad was stained black in order to recede the rear pavilion into the landscape and [highlight] the Sugar Gum. [This] was also a cost-saving measure. 

Internally, the material palette is simple [to allow the] client personal expression. The kitchen benchtop is a concrete-look Ceaserstone product, and the laundry [is] a similar colour laminate. 

Who are the clients? 

The house was originally designed for a family of three; a single parent with two young and active boys. It was important for this little household to feel a sense of security with positive connection to the community. However, as time has evolved and life [has changed], the house has more recently catered for an extended family of six.