HERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO TOTALLY CELEBRATE A BREAK FROM ‘NORMAL EXISTENCE AND USE EARTHY MATERIALS THAT ARE STRONG LIKE
THE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THE BUILDINGS ARE LOCATED
I his is the second issue regarding my thoughts on living and architecture. This month I want to discuss alpine architecture. We have not featured any Grand Designs Australia episodes on this housing type. However, as a practising architect, I have been involved with dozens of houses at Dinner Plain in Victoria and, probably more importantly, been a very average, part-time skier for most of my life.
This is a unique environment where specific responses are required to make houses perform. Of course there is the need for insulation, but solar gain through windows becomes critical, and design issues of snow shedding and freezing of services is not something everyone would think of.
Plumbing, both cold and hot water, needs special attention so as to be totally insulated from the outdoor temperature. It’s very difficult to take a hot shower after a day on the slopes if the water in the pipes is frozen!
Rooflines for alpine architecture were, from the 1950s onwards, based very much on the European model of pitched gables and dormer windows. The real driver of roof design revolves around the simple understanding for the need for snow to shed, away from pedestrian access, plus understanding the physics of how snow curls back towards the building at the eave line. Windows under eaves therefore are susceptible to damage.
More than any other building type that I can think of, alpine architecture is a real escape from our urban existence. Here is an opportunity to totally celebrate a break from ‘normal’ existence and use earthy materials that are strong like the environment in which the buildings are located.
The other fabulous thing about the alpine experience is community, where friends and strangers are thrown into intimate spaces, making for new friendships. Some of the best parties I’ve ever been to were at the snow, because in this magical environment people let their hair down.
One of my favourite experiences is taking a spa at night in the snow, or having a barbecue on a deck on a bright spring day, with the deck partially submerged in untouched snow. Or sitting around a fire with a hearth large enough for a dozen people, where the fire is hero, and there are fights over the tongs!
My biggest tip for alpine architecture is: think contemporary using honest, rustic materials (not faux Bavarian). Don’t use any materials externally that can expand and contract such as face brickwork or blockwork. Don’t underestimate the need for a well-thought-out drying room with plenty of space for the wet gear, seats and doors in and out that are separate.
Oh, and by the way — snowboarding is a fad. Skiing is the new black!
Since my last editorial, I’ve been lucky enough to revisit two houses from the first series for the Lifestyle Channel. I’ve been to the Very Small House in Surry Hills to see how Domenic Alvaro and Sue Bassett’s five-level mini tower is faring, particularly now that they have a baby. I’ve also visited the Clovelly Modular Home, which was dragged up the Hume Highway in four pieces, on the back of prime movers. These will have now gone to air and I would love to hear what you think.
It was certainly interesting for me because when the episodes were made, the houses were brand spanking new. I always wonder whether the architecture will stand up over time and if the interiors will be as fresh. I was pleasantly surprised with both of these houses, and the sheer joy both couples have about their homes.
Other great news is that both Selling Houses Australia and Grand Designs Australia were nominated for the 2013 Logie Awards, held at Crown Melbourne. This was terrific for Foxtel and the LifeStyle Channel, and certainly a feather in their caps, because Logie nominations are difficult to come by.
FremantleMedia and I are working on Grand Designs Australia Series 4, which should come out towards the end of this year. Also by then, my first book, Grand Designs Australia Handbook, should be available. This covers the A to Z of how to go about everything from buying your block of land to post-occupation assessment.
Grand Designs Live will be in Sydney and in Melbourne in October.