Hip houses: Award-winning homes

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It seems that Australia can't get enough of home renovation, construction and design. We take a look at some of the most cutting-edge residences in Australia: those handpicked for accolades at the 2012 National Architecture Awards.

Shearer's Quarters by John Wardle Architects. Photo by Trevor Mein

The popularity of TV shows like The Block, Grand Designs (both the UK and Australia versions) and basically anything with (UK version host) Kevin McCloud's stamp of approval has spurred a national fascination with the elaborate, the far-fetched, and the seriously cool in home design and renovation.

The best in contemporary Australian architecture is celebrated yearly at the National Architecture Awards. The 2012 winners of the awards for the category of Residential Architecture - Houses are the cutting-edge in home architecture and designi.

Common themes

The choices for 2012's winners show a marked interest in certain architectural themes: those of nature, industry and modesty, of a building's ability to synchronise with its site. Popular materials for awarded houses included stripped-back concrete, timber and - particularly fashionable - brick.

It also seems that the marriage of sustainability, environmental responsibility and design continue to strike a chord with people. The award Jury highly commended designs that used what we have around us, be it a sandstone cliff face or an old apple box.

The following houses received due recognition at the architecture industry awards last yeari.

The big winner: Shearer's Quarters

Shearer's Quarters - a functioning 130 sq mii shearing-shed-retreat perched on rugged Bruny Island (Tasmania) farmland - took out the top prize at the National Architecture Awards, the Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecturei. The award's jury was quoted as saying this about the entry from John Wardle Architects:

"The lodgings have a wonderful sense of spirit, tactility and purpose; the use of applewood cladding throughout the interior gives a rare sense of warmth, simplicity and humility to the internal spaces. The jury found Shearer's Quarters to be pure poetry."iii

The design incorporated recycled timber (including old apple boxes), convict-era handmade bricks, and a variety of sustainability measures including solar hot water and rainwater collectioniii. The house is home to shearers who work on the property, which is owned by chief architect at the firm John Wardleii.

Cliff Face House

Located in Sydney suburb Pittwater and overlooking the bay, this three-level house incorporates the sandstone cliff face as a wall on some levels of the houseiv. The integration of natural surrounds in the design of this house impressed the judges, who merit the structure for being "attuned to both its function and its spectacular site"v. The award-winning home is the result of collaboration between Fergus Scott Architects and Peter Stutchbury Architectureiv.

Queensberry Street House

"Nurtures the inhabitant"vi. This is how the judges described the Queensberry Street House, which is situated on a former cheese factory in the industrial-chic inner suburb of North Melbournevi. What makes this building stand out is its unique and crafted brickworkvii. The house, under leadership of Robert Simeoni Architects, was a recipient of a Commendation award at the 2012 Awardsi.

Four-Room Cottage

The Four-Room Cottage is located in the suburb of Kelvin Grove, 3km from Brisbaneviii. Winner of a Commendation award, the judges praised the Owen and Vokes project for its

"sophisticated understanding of the original typology in its plan form, relationship to the site and climate, and its materials, detailing and scale."ix

Another building that incorporates brick detailing into design, in this house the versatile material has been used for floors inside and out, for the courtyard, for its outdoor fireplace, and for the defining "snorkel" chimney that fills the kitchen with natural lightviii.

Big Hill

Overlooking the Bass Strait from above the Great Ocean Road (Victoria), this coastal property isn't your typical quaint beach house. Aside from the triangular floor plan and industrial materials of glass, concrete and woodx, this "beach house" received a National Commendation for Residential Architecture. The jury said this about the Kerstin Thompson Architects project:

"This house is a reminder of how Victorian beach houses can struggle with the dilemma of facing south. Through the careful articulation of space, Big Hill has successfully defined the interior as borrowed exterior."xi

Smee Schoff House

A Federation bungalow conversion, the Smee Schoff House project sought to bring modern functionality and design to a classic yet dated property in Sydney's inner westxii. The jury commended Sam Crawford Architects on their multi-functional rooms at Smee Schoff that challenged convention:

"...both the architect and the clients took an atypical approach to the use of space, wanting neither an open-plan living space nor separate and defined rooms... This refreshing attitude results in fluid, interlocking, multipurpose spaces, each with a distinct character... The skill displayed by the architect in modulating space [...] must be applauded."xii

The house received a Commendation Award at the 2012 Awardsi.

i Australian Institute of Architects, 2012, Media Release: 2012 National Architecture Awards - Winners List, http://www.architecture.com.au/i-cms?page=33577

ii Johnstone, T., 2012, Country shed wins architecture awards, Canberra Times, 26 July 2012, http://canberratimes.domain.com.au/architects/country-shed-wins-architecture-award-20120726-22u0k.html

iii National Architecture Awards Jury 2012, 2012 National Architecture Awards: Robin Boyd Award - Shearer’s Quarters: Jury Citation, http://architectureau.com/articles/2012-national-architecture-awards-residential-3/

iv Harding, L., 2012, Cliff Face House, Houses Issue 87, August 2012, http://architectureau.com/articles/cliff-face-house-by-fergus-scott-architects-and-peter-stutchbury-architecture/

v National Architecture Awards Jury 2012, 2012 National Architecture Awards: Robin Boyd Award - Cliff Face House: Jury Citation, http://architectureau.com/articles/2012-national-architecture-awards-residential-4/

vi National Architecture Awards Jury 2012, 2012 National Architecture Awards: Robin Boyd Award - Queensberry Street House: Jury Citation, http://www.australiandesignreview.com/architecture/26254-queensberry-street-house

vii Ward, M., 2012, Queensberry Street House, Architectural Review Asia Pacific issue 127 republished on Australian Design Review, 8 January 2013, http://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/wildlife/livingwith/snakes/frequently_asked_questions.html

viii Thomson, S., 2012, Four-room Cottage, Houses Issue 86, June 2012, http://architectureau.com/articles/four-room-cottage-by-owen-vokes/

ix National Architecture Awards Jury 2012, 2012 National Architecture Awards: Robin Boyd Award – Four-room cottage: Jury Citation, Houses Issue 86, June 2012, http://architectureau.com/articles/2012-national-architecture-awards-residential-6/

x Houses Awards Jury 2012, 2012, New house over 200m2 - Big Hill: Jury citation, http://architectureau.com/articles/big-hill/

xi National Architecture Awards Jury 2012, 2012 National Architecture Awards: Robin Boyd Award – Big Hill: Jury Citation, 2011, http://architectureau.com/articles/2012-national-architecture-awards-residential-5/

xii National Architecture Awards Jury 2012, 2012 National Architecture Awards: Robin Boyd Award – Smee Schoff House: Jury Citation, http://architectureau.com/articles/2012-national-architecture-awards-residential-8/