riba awards

Invisible House




Invisible House Michael Nicholson 10 


ARCHITECT: Peter Stutchbury Architecture

CLIENT: private

AWARDS WON: RIBA Award for International Excellence

Invisible House represents a sensitive architect’s response to a unique site: on the western edge of Australia’s Blue Mountains where the land falls away to the great plain, across which fierce winds bring extremes of heat or cold dependent on the season.

The house sits below the brow of the hill, water sits on the roof reflecting the sky making it all but invisible. On approach there was a great sense of its positioning, its rawness, its gutsiness and its sensitivity to the landscape and the climate. The diagonally placed steps cut through the contour as you descend into the house – an experience that is almost geological. 

The front door opens on to a lateral gallery space, lit by a single-glazed clerestory. Moving into the central space the ordering of the building becomes clear and all the senses are engaged by the rough materiality of the house with its tough, raw, gutsy in-situ concrete frame. It is possible to imagine the frame remaining as a ruin, but within it is an insertion of a stone box that is clear and quite beautifully organised and detailed. The contrasting preciousness of the local white/red stone of the box within the frame grounds the building. Then there are the unfussy, warming grafts of timber that line the folding ceilings of the living space and the walls of the upper rooms, that are externally expressed as corten boxes. This sophisticated series of overlays gives the house added dimensions. 

This is a hand-made house built by a carpenter and two apprentices and the mater’s skill is shown in the sliding panels at eye level that cut through the rooms, providing serial transparency through the main spaces, revealing or hiding the view beyond. And in the stair to the upper level, with its sophisticated detailing, is a simple delight. The introduction of brass as the other material in the joinery gives a finesse to the spaces, particularly in the expressed plumbing in kitchen and bathrooms alike. The brass is just right: a nice old-fashioned material that has a patina that goes with the other natural materials.

Beyond the living space you step down into the artist’s studio (designed for the artist wife) - a really good move that does not interrupt the horizontal sense but gives it another dimension. This room also links to the more functional spaces beyond which house storage and all the kit that makes the house work. This wing has the appropriate air of the farm building that once occupied this precise site. 

The thought that has gone into these environmental systems has produced a very comfortable house by means of geo-thermal systems that provide a consistent supply of 12 degree air in the building, mitigating the extremes of the climate. Thermal mass helps. Large overhangs shade the rooms. And those steel boxes on top act as thermal chimneys, with discreet fans re-directing the escaping heat in winter on to the occupants. At the end of the whole process there were only two skips’ worth of waste – that is how sustainable the job was. The architect describes the house as half house, half temple and the whole parti is a platform for viewing. But there are other modes: there’s night-time and there’s winter mode and in that mode it felt comfortable, it felt reassuring. In the end the house does a number of things exceptionally well. The architecture is visceral, it is experiential. It is a work of great interest and makes a serious contribution to the body of work that Peter Stutchbury is developing.

Contractor: Dimark Construction

Structural Engineers: Max Irvine Engineer

Electrical Consultant: Electrical Projects Australia 

Hydraulics: JCL Hydraulica

Energy Consultant: Progressive Energy Systems


COST: confidential

Date Of Occupation: 03/2014


PHOTOGRAPHERS: Michael Nicholson, Tom Ferguson

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