What might constitute ‘home’ in a world characterised by flux and change?

This question – of what carving our own sense of ‘place’ amidst the prevailing conditions of speed and dynamism looks like – forms the conceptual framing of A House for Hermes, which was recently named Gold winner at the 2014 Melbourne Design Awards .

The overarching theme extends from an earlier art installation undertaken by the client, a landscape architect, which posed the very same question.

Designed by Andrew Simpson Architects in collaboration with the client, the residence is a converted heritage-listed chicory kiln located on the northwest edge of Phillip Island in Victoria. The original building was constructed from concrete, and had acquired significant structural cracking and spalling over the years. As a result, substantial rebuilding and restoration work had to be carried out through the use of insitu reinforced shotcrete.

Two external walls of the first floor were also demolished and rebuilt in rendered polystyrene blockwork, reducing the weight of the building while providing a thick layer of insulation.

The building is one of three set within the large coastal property adjacent to protected wetlands, the other two being a guest house and artist studio (The Coldon Home), and a sewing studio (Setters Cottage). Together with an outdoor bathroom, all amenities and structures on the land precipitate an engagement and traversal of the surrounding gardens and landscape.

“The architecture is predicated, not on the rehearsed acts of enclosure or through the predetermined functions that define a house, but on the idea of facilitating and celebrating transformation and movement,” say the architects, revealing some answers to the question raised earlier.

“Through the use of adaptive and reconfigurable spaces and the manipulation of thresholds and passages, the house is intended to be a place that engages with and is a catalyst for change.”

This sense of ‘open-endedness’ is reinforced by the treatment of the interior landscape, which also facilitates movement and change, and is defined by contiguous interlocking volumes that encompass the exterior decking and surrounding context.

The nucleus of the house, sitting within one of the home’s two primary volumes, is a reconfigurable kitchen where the joinery works as the connective threshold between the ground and first floor.

“By designing the kitchen as a suite of mobile components, including a set of stairs that allow access to the upper level, this area can accommodate a range of activities from group cooking classes to an intimate meal, to a clear open plan space for larger functions,” the team explains.

This project, although seemingly coming to an easy conclusion, did present some difficulties. On one hand, there was the design challenge of producing a high standard of design quality on a limited budget. According to the architects, this was particularly difficult given the age of the existing structure, and the ambiguous scope of work required for rectification.

Yet, despite only discovering the building’s state of disrepair during construction, the team was able to deliver the home without exceeding expected costs, coming to a final sum of $3000/m² including the external deck areas.

The other difficulty had to do with improving the passive design of the building whilst maintaining the restorative and reconstructive nature of the work. On this end, fixed double-glazed windows with timber louvered inserts were installed, reducing the overall amount of glass while conforming to heritage constraints and improving cross ventilation.

At the same time, insulation and vapour barriers were incorporated into the roof by providing a second layer of structure over the existing roof trusses to create a new cavity. This allowed the old structure to be exposed internally.

New lightweight metal canopies, introduced over the ground floor north-facing windows, provide passive-shading, and an operable skylight in the apex of the kiln roof draws heat out of the building.

The decking on the north side of the kiln is also integrated with a large concrete retaining wall and water trough originally built as part of the industrial function of the building, and which are tanked and refilled with water for passive cooling.

A House for Hermes tethers itself to ongoing trends around the country despite being physically sited away from main cities. The flexibility and dynamism of its spaces, brought about internally by the mobile furniture and externally by being sited between buildings that facilitate movement, has introduced new possibilities of inhabitation – possibilities that can be replicated and emulated in many different changing and moving landscapes.

Photography by Peter Bennetts. Images: Melbourne Design Awards