The brief Alexandra Buchanan Architecture received was for a contemporary, family-friendly country home. ‘Contemporary’ and ‘country’ are often contradictions in terms, especially when a design brief stipulates the project is to take direct cues from its surrounds. Nonetheless, this is what Alexandra Buchanan Architecture achieved.

North Warrandyte House floats high above the Yarra River in the Melbourne suburb it takes its name from. The lofty home is nestled amongst dense, native bushland; a rocky and heavily-forested aspect from which the material palette takes its cues.

As well as the more ‘contemporary’ materials of glass and steel, stone and timber have been used generously throughout the project. The stone walls that feature in both the home’s exterior and interior design bring a sense of warmth and tactility that undercuts the cleanness of the more modern materials. The rough, natural-hued fa├žade also allows the building to blend gently into its bushland setting.

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For the clients – both of whom are graphic designers – it was important that aesthetic considerations were balanced with liveability requirements, such as aspect, privacy, light and ventilation.

Twin butterfly roofs were developed as part of the building’s envelope. These allowed sailing eaves to frame views out over the tree canopy below while catching sunlight in all directions and filtering it through interior spaces. High levels of glazing were implemented for all of the usual sustainability and insulation benefits.

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The material palette was also a partial response to challenges presented by the site itself. Specifically, a treacherous topography and bushfire risk were addressed with robust materials, a ‘monumental’ form, and a high level of structural integrity.

“Due to site constraints, early concepts and preconceptions about house form were challenged here,” reads a statement from Alexandra Buchanan. “Far from diminishing the design process, however, the close collaboration forged between architect and client to overcome issues has enhanced and enriched the initial brief. [The] outcome is in part testament to the relationship formed through that process.

“The highly-resolved [spaces] are textural, rich and highly-crafted. Interrogation of each building detail occurred collaboratively [and the process] included architects, stonemasons, steel manufacturers, landscape architects, and the contractor.”

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Employing good practice passive environmental solutions was an important consideration for the project. Materials were sourced locally, for instance, and solutions were made inherent to the architectural concept rather than ‘bolting on’ sustainable technologies post-build

The slim-plan, sliding pavilion arrangement forms part of this passive solution. This accommodates significant natural ventilation and daylighting while minimising energy that would otherwise be spent on lighting and cooling.

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Orientation was a huge consideration in the planning stages, and in the final product is used to control heat gain and loss. A solid, semi-submerged, fully-insulated masonry wall located to the west of the home works to this effect.

Within the central core of the home, a full-height dry stonewall is flanked by high-performance glass for cooler months, when heat needs to be drawn in and retained. This stonewall acts as a heat sink: it stores heat during the day and releases it throughout the evening.

“A passive approach requires the users to engage more with the way the house functions and breathes to regulate internal thermal comfort, but with the outcome of achieving significant, natural energy savings,” says Alexandra Buchanan.