From the architect:
The Panopticon House project is a hybrid of modernist and classical rural villa ideals. The house is located in rural Victoria, on a prominent hilltop with panoramic views across the surrounding landscape, including the Great Southern Ocean, Bass Strait and the Tasman Ocean. The site and program recall the classical villa, however a key element of the client brief was to minimise interruption to the views of the surrounding landscape. The house was in effect to become a device for seeing out – a ‘panopticon’, whose primary function is that of observation.
Jeremy Bentham’s original 18th century Panopticon has been used as a model for a wide range of institutional buildings, including the reading room of the Victorian State library. However, it was later criticised by Michel Foucault and others as a mechanism for manifesting and reinforcing power imbalances. In the context however, the relationship between the observer/observed, is that between architecture/landscape, emphasising the potential of architecture as a device for seeing.
Located on the highest point on the site, the Panopticon House adopts these strategies, elongating and folding the free plan back on itself to provide panoramic views in all directions, while capturing a central courtyard providing shelter from prevailing winds on the exposed site.
The house does not seek to blend with the site or be ‘part’ of the landscape – it is consciously a figured object in the field, like the classical villa and the local vernacular of the rural shed. The form of the Panopticon House hints at an aggregation of gable shed forms – suggesting a linkage to this language while departing from it.
From the outset the project looked to emulate the robust language of Australian rural/industrial shed typologies, providing a long term, robust building suited to its rural setting. To reflect this a simple and durable pallet of off-form concrete, galvanised steel, fibre cement sheeting and sheet metal roofing was adopted. The project’s primary structure is a series of radiating galvanised steel portal frames, which are exposed within the glazed walls as columns supporting galvanised steel windows/doors. Hot dip galvanised steel provides a durable finish requiring minimal maintenance and developing a patina over time, while withstanding the extreme environmental conditions on site.
The project demonstrates a range of innovative sustainability strategies that go beyond box-ticking solutions. The site’s history as a patrol lease had led to extensive deforestation, and the project served as a catalyst for reforestation of the site. In partnership with the local chapter of Landcare, in excess of 25,000 Manna Gum and Messmate Eucalypt trees have been planted across the site. This provides an expanded range for vulnerable endemic flora and fauna, and critically connects remnant stands of original forest, enabling wildlife corridors throughout and across the site. The stitching together of these corridors leverages the benefits of the project beyond its immediate site and into the surrounding district.
The building is also 100 percent off grid with a 30Kw PV solar array and battery bank, with a 3kw wind turbine to be installed latter in the year. As a glass house in an Australian climate, thermal comfort was carefully considered. Every room allows cross venting, and sliding doors are adjusted by a few centimetres to control air flow and the temperature internally. The house is equipped with AC, however it has seen limited use and on the hottest days, the PC array generates more power than can be consumed by the HVAC system. When in operation the house is 100 percent carbon neutral. If the tree planting program is considered the project overall is carbon negative, with reduction in carbon emissions equivalent to 3.5x the emissions of the average Australian house.
The Panopticon House project negotiates modernist and classical rural villa ideals, exploring the house as figured object versus the disappearing enclosure, to produce a novel third type that negotiates viewing to and viewing from in as a balanced conceptual counterpoint.