The Horizon House by Hill Thalis
Habitus House of the Year
Lilyfield, NSW, Australia
Set on an extraordinary section of coastline south of Sydney, the project is a considered and awe-inspiring response to the challenge of the wild, rugged landscape. The home beautifully combines vast scale and raw materiality with warm, intimate details to create a shelter from which to experience the epic views and natural environment of the site.
‘It was an intellectual and physical challenge to build in this location’, Laura says. Initially commenced in 2001, the complex planning approval process saw the project delayed until 2008 when some construction commenced. The client was unable to continue with the build, and it lay in wait until 2015 when the new owners approached Hill Thalis to work with a new builder. During this process, the Horizon House’s purpose changed from a holiday house to a permanent home on the dramatic coastal spur.
The architects responded to the scale of the landscape with powerful concrete forms and huge slabs of oak and marble for the interior finishes, resonating with the site’s vast and rugged beauty. ‘The site is quite simply extraordinary’, Laura explains. ‘We knew we had to find a way to allow the project to sit quietly beneath the horizon so that it always deferred to the greater power of the landscape – while developing its own strength, so that it was not overwhelmed by the site’.
On the ridge of a spur thrusting out toward the ocean, the design consists of two intersecting axes responding to the ocean coastline and the horizon. Upon approach, the house presents as a low stone wall, the horizontal line of the zinc-clad roof against the horizon, and a captured piece of the ocean framed in the centre of the house. The experience of entering the house is thus one of catching only tantilising glimpses of the ocean, until entering the final expansive wing where the kitchen, living and dining space takes in panoramic views of the ocean and curvature of the earth at the horizon.
This approach to the design gives the house a strong presence of its own without attempting to compete with the boundless landscape. The architects focused on balancing scale so that the structure of the home feels solid, reassuring and sheltering, without overwhelming either the inhabitants or the site. ‘We think that privacy, enclosure and a sense of protection is quite important’, says Philip Thalis. ‘It’s a house you’re within, but you experience the changing landscape.’
Living in the house day-to-day, Laura explains, the large scale of some elements of the home become background. ‘The sumptuousness of the material quality of the surfaces come to the fore’, she says. ‘Eyes and hands enjoy the intricate tactility and grain of timber, marble, shell and leather. This interplay of the intimate and the epic is constantly enlivening’. This is also felt in the home’s relationship to the outdoors – while the focus is undoubtedly the immense expanses of sea and sky, the two axes of the Horizon House form a central triangular courtyard. This more protected, private outdoor space generates a similar sense of intimacy that balances with the vastness of the wider site.
In exploring the challenge of working with the site, the architects studied many sources of art, architecture and theory to sharpen their thinking. Their architectural approach comes from a fascination with the nature and evolution of place, cities, hinterlands and landscapes, Laura explains. ‘We are almost obsessive about building an understanding of the human and architectural responses that shape places over time. We are always seeking to find the appropriate way to enter and extend this preexisting dialogue – listening, anticipating, sometimes provoking, sometimes receding, sometimes transforming.
When it came to the Horizon House, Laura recollects ‘We remembered the arresting form of Baldeweg’s House of the Rain in Liérganes. We scrutinised the evocative Beaux-Arts drawings of ruined Greek and Roman temples. We re-read Vincent Scully, ’The Earth, The Temple and The Gods’ and were drawn towards the sense of ‘archetype’ that he quoted from Herman Melville -‘Not magnitude, not lavishness But form, the site; Not innovating wilfulness but reverence for the archetype’We searched for a sense of the archetype – a form that would allow the building to become a succinct, fleeting moment in a broader landscape’.
It is perhaps this sense of the archetype, the focus on materials and the intimate connection with the landscape that makes the Horizon House so unique and worthy of nomination at the Habitus House of the Year Awards, with the rare quality of being many things simultaneously. It is at one with the landscape, but though its resolute physicality, it also highlights the transience of that same environment. It is epic in scale, yet intimate in its detail and experience. Contemporary, and at once seeming to belong to the ancient hill into which it is nestled. Capturing all of these qualities and more, the Horizon House finds creative joy in such tensions, and is enlivened.
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