Rugged Yet Refined – Cliff House by Auhaus Architecture
Ocean Grove, VIC, Australia
Situated on a rugged, windswept dune that drops sharply down to the ocean below, the Cliff House by Auhaus Architecture is a strong response to the harsh coastal conditions, but it is also open, permeable, and a sensitive expression of its context and inhabitants.
The clients had lived on the site for over two decades, in a home that was condemned less than 20 years after it was built due to extensive corrosion of the steel structure. Located on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, the site overlooks Bass Straight, whose notorious south-westerly winds whip over the ocean and take a heavy toll on vegetation and buildings alike. “We came to the project with full knowledge of the history of the site and with the task of designing a house that could withstand a barrage of ocean spray and wind without deteriorating over time,” says Kate Fitzpatrick, who designed the house with fellow codirector of Auhaus Architecture Ben Stibbard.
The fate of the previous home informed the project from the outset. When the clients first approached Auhaus, “they were still living in the original condemned house and were quite saddened by the thought of having to knock down a house which they had built less than 20 years prior,” Kate recalls. Having lived on the site for many years, they had indepth knowledge of the context “and a strong feel for what they wanted second time around. The brief was to create a new house on the site that would be bulletproof to the weather conditions.”
Located on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, the site overlooks Bass Straight, whose notorious south-westerly winds whip over the ocean and take a heavy toll on vegetation and buildings alike.
While the elements are a powerful adversary, the incredible natural beauty of the ocean views and surrounding coastal environment offers rewards in equal measure. The architecture captures this duality – for every robust element of protection there is a corresponding quality that opens the building to the views or softens it in harmony with the landscape. “As a frontline site that sits directly above the beach and is wind, rain and salt ravaged through much of the year, the materiality needs to stand up to the harsh conditions and last into the future without deteriorating,” Kate says. “The resilience and water repellent nature of concrete makes it a clear choice in this context.”
The Cliff House by Auhaus Architecture is a strong response to the harsh coastal conditions, but it is also open, permeable, and a sensitive expression of its context and inhabitants.
These concrete walls that act as a protective bulwark are balanced by the presence of greybox timber, a particularly dense Australian hardwood. Cladding the upper volume and constructed as a batten screen to the entry forecourt, the timber is finished simply in oil, allowing it to grey naturally over time and ensuring that the building expresses both the tones and the impact of the environment. Extending this principle further, a rooftop garden planted over the garage is designed to blur the delineation between the building and the landscape.
“A key element of the design was the interface with the public realm, which we sought to engage with whilst retaining a degree of privacy for our clients,” Kate explains. As well as being exposed to the elements, the site is immediately adjacent to a public car park. Rather than awkwardly closing itself off from this aspect, the design instead handles this challenge with grace, effortlessly offering its inhabitants privacy without unnecessarily barricading itself in.
“The resilience and water repellent nature of concrete makes it a clear choice in this context.”
“There is no fence to the public domain, just the edge of the house itself, and we’ve broken down the mass of the building on this side, opening up to the public through a large portal opening over the garage,” says Kate. The batten entry screen creates a soft diffusion between the public and the private, “with sandy landscape drifting into this entry courtyard while the roof garden spills down from above.”
The home is oriented toward the view but coalesces around the central courtyard. The courtyard is the device through which several challenges and requirements of the brief are resolved, from the need to support multi-generational living to accessing both views of the ocean to the south and natural sunlight to the north. The clients’ family consists of a couple with two adult children and very elderly grandparents, so “the design needed to be easy to close off and live in as a single couple, yet also cater to all three generations, allowing for extended stays as they come
and go year-round,” Kate says.
The courtyard arrangement ensures a high level of visual permeability throughout the house whilst retaining a degree of physical separation for the various generations that occupy the home. “All rooms and outdoor areas were expected to have ocean views, and this was achieved through a courtyard plan and cutout across the roof garden for the kids’ bedrooms behind the pool courtyard to achieve longer range ocean vistas,” says Kate. “The protected north-facing courtyard banks into the centre of the house behind the living area and provides sunny, sheltered and green outdoor space with views through the living room and across the roof garden to the ocean beyond.”
“There is no fence to the public domain, just the edge of the house itself, and we’ve broken down the mass of the building on this side, opening up to the public through a large portal opening over the garage.”
The presence of the courtyard at its heart also emphasises the fact that the building is not only absorbed in the view but also focused inward, with the interiors extending and developing the forms and materiality of the exterior. Split over three levels, a sculptural central atrium links the layers, the void giving the living area a lightness and spatial generosity in contrast with the robust concrete shell. The relaxing of the formal geometry of the exterior as one moves through the courtyard and into the home expresses the transition from public to private while maintaining a
calming consistency of approach.
The interior palette overwhelmingly continues the tones and materiality of the exterior – not only in the emphasis on timber and concrete but the shades of blue that call to the ocean beyond. The natural variation of glazed Japanese tiles captures the sea’s interplay of blue and green, while the veined marble evokes the patterns of sunlight on the sand beneath the water. Meanwhile, deep navy joinery and sea-green carpet provide extended planes of colour throughout the kitchen and living spaces.
The relaxing of the formal geometry of the exterior as one moves through the courtyard and into the home expresses the transition from public to private while maintaining a
calming consistency of approach.
“While the outside of the house is somewhat austere, internally, the brutalist exterior shell is eroded, the sculpted curves of the void and helical stair carrying through into the set down carpeted living area and kitchen joinery, and shaped openings through the concrete,” Kate describes. “The organic lines are a natural fit with the rugged native surrounds, a stylised and whimsical response that creates an easy flow between spaces and reflects the windswept beauty of the natural environment beyond the house.”
The robust nature of the response ensures the building not only withstands the weather conditions but becomes fully immersed in all the qualities that make the site unique. From the views to the vegetation, the rugged elements, and the interaction with the public domain, the Cliff House responds with strength tempered by consideration and sensitivity.