Kangaroo Valley House by Alexander Michael

April 3, 2009

Australian designer Alexander Michael has sent us the Kangaroo Valley house that is located two hours south of Sydney, Australia, and was completed in 2005.

Visit Alexander Michael’s website – here.

Read the full description after the photos….

Description of the Kangaroo Valley House by Alexander Michael:

Firstly, the house at Kangaroo Valley is our own weekend house, so we (my partner and I) were the clients.
We were searching for a property on the coast of Tuscany. When we realised we couldn’t afford even a dump; we had to look closer to home. A client suggested we take a drive to Kangaroo Valley where they had a house. She gave me the number of the agent, so I phoned and said “I’d like one-hundred acres, privacy, water, rain forest, and lots of views”, thinking; what the hell, go for it!

It literally took twenty minutes before we saw the property, and said, “Yes, we’ll take it”.

The plan was to build something small and inexpensive, but an architect friend suggested that that was a dumb idea, saying, “When will you ever get another chance like this? Get out there!”

The thing I love most about design, whether it’s a mechanic’s tool or a multi-story building, is to see how it’s put together and what makes it work. When these features of machinery are denied by covering up, or burying out of sight for no other reason than decorative, then I think is a terrible waste. I guess it’s the same reason I love to stare at the skeletons of great whales, or fish, or humans; it’s all architectural machinery, its function is to support, and it’s beautiful.

That was primarily the guiding principle for Kangaroo Valley. The construction materials (concrete, galvanised steel, glass, and some timber) were simply a response to practicality, and my love for hardware shops. I’ve always tried to remain true to the materials I use, and consequently prefer to avoid painting, rendering, or cladding a material that would otherwise be fine. “Why lie when the truth would do,” my mother always said.

There are primarily two parts to this building, one being the main living area, the other being the two individual bedrooms separated from the main building by a semi-covered walkway. As this was a weekender, I wanted it to feel like one, and so the walk outside to get to the bedrooms gives it a kind of resort atmosphere, as well as doubling as an escape from the bustle of the living area.

The Living area is basically a simple rectangular space with a polished concrete floor, eighty percent enclosed by retractable glass walls, and single-span composite timber beams supporting the sub-roof ceiling. At twenty meters long, by seven meters wide, there is no internal structure, the only division being the Utility Pod bringing the services up through the concrete slab to the kitchen, WC, laundry, and media room. Like a house of cards, the entire pod is fabricated from structural fibrous cement sheet, only held together by exposed galvanised steel braces. The Pod stops well short of the ceiling to allow for visual flow-through. Like the Pod, I’ve used the same material to sheet all of the exterior walls as well as the top of the sub-roof. In its raw state, fibrous cement sheet is a wonderful, but under-utilised and misunderstood material, thanks mostly to its infamous predecessor, asbestos sheeting. Covering all of this like a giant sun-shade, is a primary roof structure of galvanised steel supported by twelve massive timber columns, four of which stand in the twenty-seven meter long reflection pond. It is this roof that supports the sub-roof by four fine steel rods, allowing three sides of the living area to be opened to the landscape.

Air, water, and fire have so many things in common when it comes to tranquillity and peace of mind. This building seems to need the air as it scoops it up and channels it through its voids and openings. The sun too is scooped up by twenty panels of photo-voltaic cells, and channelled into twelve massive batteries located behind glass in the sitting room. I can sit for hours being mesmerised by the light on the reflection pond during the day, and the same while sitting by the fireplace at night. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the building seems to be alive as it interacts with us, and its environment.

Visit Alexander Michael’s website – here.