Peter Stronach and his partner, designer Tim Allison, had been looking for land in the Southern Highland of New South Wales for some years. Straddling the hillside, the land undulates down to the coast below. It’s blessed with glorious distant views partly framed by native rainforest and, they quickly discovered, it could be seriously cold. Not only did Stronach challenge the rural vernacular, he took the opportunity to put his long-held sustainable architecture ideas into practice. “Ever since the first oil shock of ’77, I’ve realised we’ve got to reduce our dependence on carbon fuels, because we’re going to run out,” he says.
Stronach studied the recent research by Sydney architect Professor John Ballinger, who observed that Australians were in fact building back to front for their climate, and resolved to take a different approach. The house reverses accepted building practice by using a lightweight exterior cladding over a solid concrete block interior, with insulation packed in-between. “It makes sense, especially in such a cold climate”.
Fired up by the possibilities of the project, Stronach basically designed the house over one long weekend. Certain elements were a given – the reverse block veneer principal, the galvanised iron cladding, an Aga stove for cooking and heating, as many environmental ticks as possible, and the idea of retreating upstairs to bed in the warmth of the eaves “obviously because hot air rises”.
Stronach separated the house into four zones centered on living activities. At one end is the ‘evening’ room, a more enclosed space with fewer windows and a fireplace to retreat to on a winter’s night. At the other end is a glazed loggia, with full- height glass doors to trap the sun (passive solar collection) and screen doors to deter insects and allow cooling breezes through the house in summer. In the centre of the house is the staircase and entry zone. And then there is the kitchen, a two-storey void where a large slow-combustion Aga stove holds pride of place – the heart of the home.