by Neometro

Split House

Architecture - by Stephen Crafti

The ‘Split House’ as it’s known is not quite a beach house, although it is located at Mt Martha, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. The award-winning house, designed by BKK Architects, is also not the type of house you see in the suburbs. “This house sits somewhere in between,” says architect Simon Knott, a director of the practice, who worked closely with senior associate and project architect George Huon.

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Photo: Peter Bennetts

Designed for a couple who have an eye on retirement, with two adult children who moved out of the family home, the idea was to create a retreat that would bring the family together on weekends and over the summer months. “Our clients sold the family home in Glen Iris, bought a city-edged apartment and decided to spend more time down the coast,” says Huon.

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Photo: Peter Bennetts

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Photo: Peter Bennetts

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Photo: Peter Bennetts

Although Mt. Martha is now relatively built up, BKK was given a battle-axe-shaped site, located at the highest point in the area. “When we met with our clients on the first occasion, we brought a ladder with us, allowing them to see the potential views over Port Phillip Bay and the adjacent reserve. From the outset, we were keen to create a strong relationship to the landscape and surrounds, not just the ‘heroic’ water views, but to the small cluster of sheoaks near the entrance to the property,” says Knott. So some parts of the angular and ‘split’ house appear buried into the site, landscaped by the MUD OFFICE, while other parts of the timber clad home cantilever above the ground.

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Photo: Peter Bennetts

Apart from these aspects, one of the other starting points in the design process was a series of images of houses that strongly respond to coastal landscapes. BKK Architects showed the clients series of houses, including Charles Moore’s homes from California, Andrew Geller’s houses from Connecticut and, closer to home, architect Kerstin Thompson’s Lake Connawarre House. “We also appreciated the informality of some of Louis Kahn’s modest houses. There’s a certain informality about them. And they’re non-prescriptive,” says Knott.

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Photo: Peter Bennetts

Referred to as the ‘Split House’, for its unusual floor plan, the owners, family and friends arrive into the core of the plan, as if passing along a riverbed. As the owners are often on their own, the plan is loosely delineated between the children’s and guest’s wing on the lower level. The parent’s wing, comprising the open plan kitchen, dining and living areas, is on the higher level (there’s a slope of approximately four metres across the site), together with the main bedroom and ensuite. Bridging the two wings is a ‘knuckle’ (an eight-metre-high void) that features a staircase with one side used for going between the two levels, while the other, carpeted, is used for recitals. A baby grand piano is located at the foot of the stairs. “The family is musical, so there are often piano recitals for family and friends,” says Huon, who also points out the Venturi system of cooling the house, with louvred windows included at the apex. “When these are left open during the warmer months of the year, the music from the piano can be heard in the neighboring streets,” says Knott.

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Photo: Peter Bennetts

As with the great post-war beach houses, where the entrance to the home is discrete, often through a side or kitchen door, here the main point of arrival is via a timber door set into a timber wall that leads to the informal lower level. “The purpose is to make you walk through the landscape and once you’re inside, appreciate it from wherever you might be standing or sitting,” says Huon, who included generous window boxes for reading nooks. Even as one ascends or descends the stairs, there are views via the glass walls, making the stairs appear to ‘float’. “We really saw this house as having a series of moments that allows you to experience a variety of landscapes, rather than framing the one ‘heroic’ view,” adds Huon.

BKK Architects can be contacted on 9671 4555


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