Grand Designs Australia

Hornsby Heights Adobe House

Resident architecture expert, David Hallett from Ask An Architect, gives us his opinion on the Hornsby Heights Adobe House from Episode 4, Season 4 of Grand Designs Australia.

Don’t be fooled...beneath this muddy confection lurks a reactionary building.

It’s a reaction against conventional design, with the feeling and function of the interior spaces determining the exterior form of the building. So many new homes are designed with street appeal as the priority, but this home has been designed from the inside out to create an Aladdin's cave to house the owner's collection of indigenous treasures.

The approach is admirable, but it makes for an occasional awkwardness as the building pushes hard against the landscape to squeeze itself onto the site. Unlike the work of the ‘Sydney School’ architects of the 1960’s who nestled their buildings inconspicuously into craggy hillsides, this building defies its context and stands resolutely against the terrain.

It’s also a reaction against conventional construction systems, at least in part. Buildings on steep slopes benefit from alternatives to standard industry methods that save time and cost, however much of the skeleton of this building relies on conventional concrete slabs, timber framing and steel roofing. Its clay skin, however, is anything but conventional.

Whilst smearing clay over corrugated steel sheeting owes more to ‘wattle and daub’ than traditional adobe construction the resultant finish has generated a lovely warmth and texture, particularly throughout the interior. Unfortunately, first-world labour rates have made a third-world technique expensive and I'd hate to be doing the dusting!

Finally, it’s a reaction against the conventional building procurement method...a method that Kerry describes as “Germanic” but which generally leaves little to chance. There’s an enchanting naivety in Kerry and Judy’s laissez-faire approach but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Building without any apparent plans, dimensions, specifications or even a contract has clearly been a rewarding process in this instance, but it can be fraught with danger without a partner like Peter to guide the way.

This house is a wolf in sheep's clothing...outwardly calm but conceived in a revolutionary spirit. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd prefer to see a resolved design, detailed drawings and specifications, a firm price and a building contract any day. Keep in mind that the project ran $150,000 over budget!

So, ‘Vive la Revolution!’...but consider the consequences.

Visit Ask An Architect for more information.

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Posted by Andrew734Report
A response by designer Andrew Minter to David Hallett's comment.

David writes "beneath this muddy confection lurks a reactionary building" and "this house is a wolf in sheep's clothing, outwardly calm but conceived in a revolutionary spirit."

I have never thought of my buildings quite like this, although I didn't build this one.
I was, however , a student in the 1960's and we were trying to think differently.
On reflection , I have found myself to be a lot of what David suggests, "ä reactionary against conventional design, construction systems and procurement methods."
In the 1970's, like so may others, I wanted to find alternatives in housing that produced a different and much better result for similar money, than was generally offered.
Experimenting with the concept of building houses from the earth they stood on, using what was on hand, like rusty old tin, mud and timber. Plastering the walls with colourful clay renders lit with natural light. Most of all I wanted the houses to be fun, an experience to enter and enjoy.

I have been designing and building homes like this since the 1970's and many of these local homes have been visited by the clients, consequently they were very aware what to expect and how it would look and feel. The building process may have been unfamiliar to them but it was very familiar to Peter and I.

Commenting on David's last paragraph where he says there were no plans, dimensions or specifications. The plans and specifications were passed by Hornsby Council and a Construction Certificate issued.
The finished building largely matched the plans and the cad on the web page.
Little wonder there is confusion expressed about this show because the impression given is misleading.
Posted by Isabel51Report
I was very surprised watching the Hornsby Heights Episode not to hear the owners nor Peter the builder mention Andrew Minter or give him any credit. The show gave me the impression the owners designed the home with Peter's help. I am very familiar with Andrew's remarkable work and his building methods.
Watching your show made me feel very confused.
Kind Regards

Isabel Goodall