“Ironbark` dreaming is about touching the world lightly, like a stone skimming across he surface of a still pond. A continuous “treewalk` descends gently, continuously through the site, drawing one from a node of industry towards the heart of the home, the creek and the world of nature beyond that is “The Highlands`. “Ironbark`, being both the name of the site and of this project, is the concept design of a home, retreat and office in the newly released and very special residential eco estate called “The Highlands`, the crowning achievement of the multi-award winning Ecovillage, located in the Currumbin Valley, Queensland. Several architects were selected by the developer of this very special place to prepare designs befitting the vision of sustainable design held by the passionate new custodians of this land, Landmatters Pty Ltd. Design Forum Architects was one of those designers chosen to select from the rich tapestry of sites on offer, so that we might deliver our particular vision for this rare and delicate residential location. As a designer feeling the full responsibility of the task before me, my first thought was that the site I selected was in fact too precious to be enjoyed by just one individual or family, and I sought to expand the brief to include the possibility of engaging the wider community, either through the opportunity of working from home, or even through the potential of renting the facility out for eco retreats or weekend experiences. It is for that reason that the built form is fractured into a series of “pearls on a string`, with each “pearl` being a sleeping or living pavilion, offering not only the sustainable benefits of the cross ventilation and solar exposure that such as design enables, but also the celebration of privacy and solitude befitting the beauty of the natural surroundings. At the top of the hill and the start of the chain, the office/studio has been situated, providing both a befitting entry to the site as well as a home office in miniature, a design strategy that encourages the economies of a staged construction approach that would enable the owner and/or builder to be either hands-on in the building process, or, at the very least, able to provide close and continuous surveillance of the construction. I believe that the provision of this living outpost as an integral part of the design recognises that the process of building is as much part of the environmental and economic sustainability of a dwelling as the other, more enduring issues such as the careful selection of materials or the way in which a building addresses the ground. At the end"or beginning--of this succession of pavilions, there is a larger conglomeration of spaces, loosely joined by the curved and ramped continuous “treewalk` that serves as the linking element, as well as the breezeway entry and alfresco area. The repeated theme in the design is the total interweaving of internal and external spaces in such as way that does not ignore the human needs for security, warmth and protection, but does so while also eroding the boundaries of natural and man-made experiences. As accessibility is a strong theme in all sustainable design, the challenging topography of this steeply sloping site was tamed by the whip of the “treewalk`, a continuous, covered ramped walkway that descends through the site and the building pavilions at a continuous five degree slope, reflecting the grade of the ground below and weaving in and out of the many majestic existing trees. By using the ramp element as a linking element, all facilities can be accessed by persons with ambulatory disabilities, albeit with some difficulty and reliant the use of the road as a further vertical transcending device. However, to provide a more egalitarian route between the ground and first floors, a lift is also envisioned as part of the final complex. At the risk of wearing thin the basic principles of sustainable design, it needs to be mentioned that the design of the dwelling has been done in accordance with the Architectural and Landscape Codes and Lot Evaluations of The Ecovillage, documents which have been developed to ensure a verifiable minimum five-star energy rating for all houses. The components of the design specifically tailored to achieve this result include the careful orientation of the spaces, the provision of plentiful cross ventilation and thermal insulation; the use of both solar hot water and photovoltaic cells; the inclusion of well located thermal mass and generous north glazing; the incorporation of water conservation and waste minimisation strategies; the selection of renewable, recycled, low VOC and low embodied energy materials; a as well as the careful attention to the preservation of existing site features such as soil and vegetation. In summary, “Ironbark` embodies this architect’s vision of an appropriate and sustainable human augmentation to the beautiful handiwork of Mother Nature embodied by this endangered, valuable and very rare site. Amy Degenhart, B. Arch., H. Hons, FRAIA


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