French Island Off GRID Prefab | Quick on the Rise
French Island, VIC, Australia

Cath Ashbridge

Jaime Diaz-Berrio

It could be said trying to build a home on an island without road access, a local council or basic services would pose a slight construction challenge. Perhaps a fitting construction challenge for a specialist in prefabricated architecture such as Ecoliv Buildings to get their hands on. Freighting the modules across by ferry was however a new consideration they hadn’t encountered before.

Logistical and locational complexities posed by the French Island project meant thinking outside the square, and so it made perfect sense to head down the modular route for the house Victorian Architect Rowan Brown, of Lai Cheong Brown, was designing for his parents.

The site challenges were numerous, and the home needed to accommodate all generations, friends and family staying over on occasion if marooned by bad weather.

Sitting on a ridgeline, the house was designed to look out across Phillip Island to Bass Strait, back across the Llama grazing the pastures to French Island National Park. This lead to views in almost all directions yet exposed the home to winds and driving rain coming in off the Strait. The solution was to design a simple square-form courtyard house providing a private and protected outdoor space whilst also maximising light and ventilation.

The house was designed to be a minimal form sitting cleanly on the landscape and viewable from all sides. The chosen prefabricated nature of the build enabled Ecoliv Buildings to create separate modules to be placed in circulation around the courtyard, giving the living and bedrooms the opportunity to look out to sea.

Not to be forgotten was the ‘Off Grid’ component of the build, and to make life on this remote site a reality, managing and integrating the sustainable services was critical to the success of the project. The architect wanted to explore an ‘outrigger’ approach whereby the equipment was to be located separately from the main building, maximising efficiency, and also avoiding design and architecture compromises. Off Grid services were driven as much by necessity and practicality as by the fundamental belief of importance in sustainability.

Taking into consideration location, logistics and budget constraints planning by Ecoliv Buildings was paramount. Dynamics coming into play included ferry weight restrictions, the cancellation of ferry crossings due to bad weather, the coordination of concrete pouring to match ferry and tide times and the tricky task of providing tradesmen with island accommodation. There was also the very important task of combining a build to be entirely viewed in the round to sit well with the landscape. The modules were transported and positioned on site over 2 days, decking and off grid services then completed, and owners moving in two weeks later.

The home sits proudly on the ridgeline with an understated and dramatic presence. Rural pastures sweep in all directions and the ocean and horizon offer a forever-changing vista. Not undertaken lightly, this was an outstanding design and construction, sustainable and logistical achievement, presented by one especially challenging location.