Grand Designs Australia

King Island Whale Tail House

Resident architecture expert, David Hallett from Ask An Architect, gives us his opinion on the King Island Whale Tail House from Episode 9, Season 4 of Grand Designs Australia.

They say that a change is as good as a holiday, but re-locating from east Arnhem Land to the west coast of King Island is about as dramatic a ‘sea-change’ as you could imagine!

Andrew and Diane have fashioned a beautiful home on a barren, windswept sand dune. It’s a very private place that provides intimate spaces for quiet reflection and visual connections with the landscape from every room. The planning is simple and effective, generating a hierarchy of spaces that become progressively more private as they radiate from the communal space at the building’s heart. A measure of interior flexibility is introduced by an ingenious retractable ‘gallery’ wall and literal transitions to the exterior are made possible at numerous locations.

The muted interiors and an abundance of natural light reinforce the building’s relationship with its environment. Achieving this important link in such a location is difficult – the building must welcome and repel the environment at the same time – but this home manages to be both a sanctuary and a fortress.

It’s not a lighthouse but it shares a defiant spirit.

Natural and second-hand materials further embed the building in its surroundings and establish important links with the townsfolk and timber-cutters of the community. Diane and Andrew’s resourceful use of local materials and labour makes this building very much at home in its location…perhaps their time spent with indigenous communities has shown them the importance of ties with land and family.

Credit must also go to the builders for their skill and patience throughout such a challenging project.

As wonderful as this building is, I fear that the elements will have the final say. Wind, rain, sun and sand will buffet this building relentlessly as nature seeks to reclaim lost ground. Subjugating shifting sand with seaweed is one thing, but can the building – and its owners – withstand repeated attacks from all quarters?

I hope so.

Visit Ask An Architect for more information.

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