Weaving magic

Light from the skylight is diffused by canvas panels. Joinery: Forest Furniture. Images: Ingvar Kenne
Light from the skylight is diffused by canvas panels. Joinery: Forest Furniture. Images: Ingvar Kenne

The winner of this year's Australian Institute of Architects NSW Country Division Awards, Cloud Cottage in Bowral by Takt Studio, has been described by the architects as "an exploration of materiality".

The story behind the project ... was in itself a sustainability story.

"The extensive use of a single species of hardwood (Blackbutt) in this project explores the limits of the material in creating an atmospheric calm. It took cues from some careful framing and millwork evident in the original cottage.

"Gentle expression of the human scale - posts arrised (edges rounded) where bodies pass, grooved hand grips, leather pulls, dovetailed drawer joints from a master furniture maker - all explore the capabilities of the material in an intimate way," Takt Studio's Katharina Hendel said.

The brief from the owners, who came from a larger property nearby, included goals to reduce their environmental footprint and allow aging in place.

"[The owners are] both are creatives in their own way - an academic with a passion for Australian literature, and a gardener with expertise in native landscapes. Thus the brief was to include a home for a garden, and a home for stories, interwoven," Takt's Brent Dunn added.

The awards jury chair Virginia Wong-See, of Architecture at Altitude, said of the result: "The highly crafted project offers a legacy for future generations. With exceptional craftsmanship the building is designed to age graciously, timeless in its aesthetic."

Windows + Doors: AHJ

Windows + Doors: AHJ

Bowral is in the Southern Highlands of NSW, where winter temperatures get below zero and summers can hit 40. The architects said thay this climate posed not so much a challenge than it inspired the design process.

The home is well insulated and uses advanced glazing and geothermal heating to shelter in the cold winter months, while extensive shading, particularly to the west was introduced to protect from the summer heat.

Another example of this dual functionality is the front verandah with its louvred roof that admits winter sun into the living areas, but blocks the hot summer sun.

Originally the aim was to renovate the existing cottage on the site, but unexpected borer damage meant the house had to be almost rebuilt entirely, however this did give the architects the opportunity to create a skylight slot as a single piece along the entire roof line. The light from this source is diffused, along with sound in the open plan living area, by canvas panels on the ceiling.

Builder: Bricon Projects

Builder: Bricon Projects

"They form a contrasting calm backdrop to the timber dominated living space rather like the clouds above us - lighting the room subtly at night from behind and moderating light quality during the day," Katharina said.

In keeping with the brief, the design is also an exercise in sustainability. Passive solar principles resulted in a replanning of the existing home to bring living spaces north, where a series of layered angled sun blades and verandah overhangs control solar gain precisely.

"Windows and doors are made of recycled hardwood. These timbers, reclaimed from demolitions in the local region, most likely include timbers from such timber cottages of the area as this once was, in timbers cut from local forests, continuing the story of their long lived usefulness and beauty," Brent said.

"The story behind the project, to allow ageing in place, and connect owners with the walkable town and its now oft utilised train links to Melbourne and Sydney, was in itself a sustainability story. This has been woven throughout - from passive and active systems, material and finishes selections, to the vegetable gardens now planted. A place for a low impact life."

Takt Studio received a handwoven present from the owners after completion, with a note saying "...we have ongoing delight in our beautiful house. Thanks so much."

Cloud Cottage also won Residential Architecture - Houses (New) and the Termimesh Timber Award categories at the awards.