Eco-Friendly Australian Home is a Scandinavian-Design Lover’s Best Defence against Cyclonic Winds

The design of the Mermaid Beach Residence is a dialogue between architecture and the intrinsic human desire and emotional need for permanence, or in other words; to put down roots.
– B.E Architecture

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How do you design the ultimate minimalist abode while also ensuring that the final product’s environmental impact is also minimal? This is the question Australian design studio B.E Architecture faced with their latest design: Mermaid Beach Residence. The client was a Scandinavian minimalist lover and sought the perfect bespoke design along a surf beach in Queensland.

Overlooking the Coral Sea, the exterior is bold, brutal and minimal in its use of concrete. The design makes use of just about every eco-innovation in the book – from solar power to a solar water heating system to a garage optimised for recharging electric cars.

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We sat down with the design team, who corresponded as a team, to learn all about the process of making the perfect beach home.

THE PLUS: How did you feel when you saw the site? What were the biggest considerations at play in the environment?
B.E Architecture:
The site sits directly on the beach front right on the water; crisp clean Queensland sand and blue waters to the horizon – about as good as it gets location-wise. The house itself is situated atop something that is impermanent, the beach; a place of erosion and movement.

The region the residence is located in means that it has to contend with cyclonic winds and thunderstorms, as well as penetrating sunlight. This meant that the architecture had to speak to these fundamental considerations by means of providing privacy and protection from the often volatile weather conditions, while simultaneously being the opposite; a relaxed, open, sun-drenched family home directly on the beach. The materiality and architectural plan of the project is a result of these conversations, in harmony with the client’s need for a timeless, functional family home.

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TP: Why did you decide to use scabbled concrete?
BEA:
As an office we constantly research and develop the use of materiality; the innate qualities and resonance of the materials we use are of the utmost importance to us. What should the building be made of? How should that material be represented? Are among the questions we ask ourselves during the initial design development phases.

It is through these investigations, that we have been able to gain a better understanding of the intrinsic beauty in a single material, and how they can be handled and treated in different ways.

Although it too has imperfections, smooth concrete refracts light in a different way to a heavily ‘worked’ in-situ concrete surface. The smooth concrete invites you to touch and run your hand along it, while the rough scabbled concrete provides a textured contrast. Both techniques were used internally and externally and reveal different traits of the same material.

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TP: The client appreciated Scandinavian minimalism. What’s your opinion on it?
BEA:
Scandinavian design has long held interest with Australian architects and interior designers. This fascination dates back to the post-war travels of David McGlashan, Les Parrott, Frederick Romberg, and others in the 1950s.

Arguably many of the best houses in Australia that came out of the 1960s and 1970s were influenced by these architects new knowledge of Scandinavian design ideals. These ideals stipulated that the design be guided by the use of simple, honest building materials and finishes, which satisfy aesthetic and functional requirements and have a distinct identity.

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TP: The building also has a kind of brutalist aesthetic. Was this a factor in the design process?
BEA:
The design process, the site, plus our research of appropriate materials led us to a project of two materials that each serves a purpose. The concrete is the protection from the coastal elements – the bunker if you will, as well as being the natural, rich primary internal material.

Timber screens were used externally as sun and storm screens, and internally as the ceiling, floor, and joinery. Both are protective and both are tactile. Brutalism is not a word in our vocabulary; we talk in terms of essence and elemental, refined and restrained, but most importantly, always from a point of view what is appropriate.

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TP: The curved staircase is beautiful and is rare to see. What was the idea behind it?
BEA:
The staircase is an element of a house that is sometimes overlooked, in a two-level dwelling can become sculptural, and the vertical lines can draw one’s view upwards to the sky.

The curved, rotating staircase is an idea that we have been developing over many years, which has given us a strong understanding of how light interacts with the shape of the staircase and how it can be drawn down into the centre of the home. Often we combine skylights and staircases to maximise the visual and functional impact of the space.

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This stair has soft timber treads and risers but unique semi-circular external walls. Where we would normally insert a circular skylight in the middle of the stairwell ceiling, we have used a semi-circular skylight on the perimeter to allow the sun to track on the inside walls for the duration of the day to allow more light to filter into the house.

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TP: How windy and stormy does it get at Mermaid Beach and how did you incorporate this into the design?
BEA:
The region the project is located in means that it has to contend with cyclonic winds and thunderstorms, as well as penetrating sunlight. This meant that the architecture had to speak to these fundamental considerations by means of providing protection from the often volatile weather conditions, while simultaneously being the opposite; a relaxed, open, sun-drenched family home directly on the beach. The materiality and architectural plan of a courtyard house is a result of these conversations, in harmony with the clients need for a timeless, functional family home.

The primary materials used were a combination of both smooth and rough poured in-situ concrete which has been hand-worked with a technique called ‘scabbling’, contrasted with the use of natural timber panels. The façade gives little away to the beach traffic and offers plenty of privacy to the occupants, while simultaneously having the ability to open out onto the beach, the internal courtyard plan allows occupants to enjoy the outdoors during unpredictable weather, the overhangs and cantilevers create areas of shade and cover from driving rain, further articulating the two-level scheme, and the operable screens allow the building to be protected from the sun and wind. The front elevation has storm shutters that can shut the building down in cyclone season.

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TP: Are you someone who likes to experiment or are you a thorough-planner?
BEA:
Every project is an opportunity to experiment and use new techniques and materials, in conjunction with the numerous things we have learnt over the years through constant testing and development. The design process is an experiment with rigour, nothing is done on a whim or without thorough planning; everything is tested and prototyped prior to any construction. The new comes from experimenting with the old.

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Photography: Andy MacPherson