Wakanui Trail House, Northcote

A home for a family of avid campers that embodies their affinity for the outdoors, while offering a deep connection with our natural environment and fostering connections between family members within the house.  

The site backs onto Northcote’s All Nations Park (a former brick quarry, subsequently landfill and now parkland) with a meandering trail through native bush and mature eucalypts.

We’re interested in the ability of biophilic design to nurture a love of place by connecting us with nature. Using visual connection with the environment and natural materials. Providing interaction with elements, sun and airflow to create natural comfort. Use of dynamic and diffuse light to connect occupants with the movement of the sun.

Spatial strategies of prospect and refuge, mystery and risk, create a dramatic relationship with nature. The ground-floor study nook and first-floor bedroom provide secluded refuge from which the alluring prospect of treetops are viewed through the double height void. Mystery in the form of the enticing distant views of the parkland beyond the living room, across the back yard and through the transparent back fence invite the spirit of exploration.

A sense of slight risk is created by the cantilevered balcony and open void’s slender balustrades stimulating a feeling of exhilaration while drawing out to the visual connection with the nature beyond.  

The openable void connects spaces and occupants while allowing selective seclusion. The study, partially enclosed by a bookshelf, meets our evolving needs to work from home, separated from, while open to the living rooms and view beyond.  

Of course being so open to the public realm also prompts the need to control the sense of exposure. Internal sheers and external venetians allow the occupants to operate the rear façade and attenuate transparency and control solar gain. Layers of depth in planting and built form help obscure and blur the rear boundary.

Raw and honest locally sourced materials are used throughout. Vic Ash lining boards, Tas Oak flooring and Silvertop Ash slats, bathed in the natural light, express the warmth inherent in this place. Timber slats block summer sun while preventing overlooking of neighbouring properties. Their angle uses the synergy between the bevel inherent in their resource-efficient radial sawing and the angle of the low winter sun to provide passive solar heating.

Hand-made craft of great builders is expressed throughout. Timber rafters from the existing roof were salvaged and re-used for the feature sliding doors and dining room pendant light. In-situ concrete was crafted for the benchtop and floating hearth. Apart from those, and the stumps, no other concrete was used, in preference for timber sub floor structure, heavily insulated, as a lower embodied energy, renewable approach to thermally sound building.

The sustainable design aspirations are complemented by a decision to go off gas, using all electric appliances, hot water, hydronic heating and cooling combined with solar power.

“BCA have created a house that connects the inside and outside.  We are a very outdoors family and enjoy the connection from the living space to our backyard, and into the park, along with the use of natural timber in the design.  The rooms are designed to allow us to connect as a family (for example, we can open upstairs and be part of the activity downstairs) but also enables us to retreat to our own space.  We feel very privileged to be living in a house that provides such a warm and flexible space for our family. ” – Clients, Avril & Rich

Project Team: Ben Callery + Tim Shallue

Photography: Jack Lovel

Styling: Bea + Co Styling

Builder: Keenan Built