The house is two-storey to free up as much of the ground plane as possible for gardening and outdoor areas.
Embodying the ‘Least House Necessary’ philosophy, The Big Small House designed by People Oriented Design (POD) in Cairns embraces client/architect collaboration and presents a new model for sustainable tropical living.
Searching for a design that connected the interior spaces to their garden and the rainforest beyond, Stewart and Mahar Gorospe-Lockie wanted to keep the majority of their modest suburban block open to encourage people to socialise, minimise energy use and capitalise on views to the mountains and forest canopy.
“We also wanted to use materials honestly, leaving concrete and steel exposed for example, rather than covering everything with plasterboard,” Stewart says.
“And it was important for us to give a nod to vernacular Queensland architecture.”
Simpler living with less possessions and clutter reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint.
Older Queenslanders generally had large roofs providing deep shade, high ceilings to keep radiant heat away from the body, good cross-ventilation and undercrofts that were weatherproof and cool. The Big Small House uses all of these ideas in a contemporary fashion. It also features casement windows, which are common in Queenslanders because they allow 100 per cent of airflow but are less expensive than louvres.
“Together with People Oriented Design (POD) we spent a lot of time thinking about how much space we really needed for different activities, and where we might have opportunities to combine activities in the one space,” Stewart says.
“It’s not a big house but it feels like there’s plenty of space – not because the rooms are large but because there’s space between them, connections to the garden and views to the distance.”
The void over the dining room and kitchen make the house feel large.
Dr Shaneen Fantin, together with POD business partner Belinda Allwood, say the key elements that make the house feel large include the void over the dining room and kitchen, the clear separation of the master bedroom from children’s bedrooms, and the open circulation on the first floor that can double as social or work space.
“At POD we try to minimise circulation space and make every part of a house simple and beautiful,” Shaneen says.
“If a space can have multiple uses then it’s succeeding in being efficient, useful and interesting for the family.”
Large stackable sliding doors allow for immediate connection between the inside of the house and the garden.
Shaneen established POD as a sole trader in Cairns in 2009 and Belinda joined POD as a partner in 2014. Before creating POD, Belinda and Shaneen worked for more than 15 years each as senior architects, associates, project managers and researchers for firms including Arup (Cairns), Troppo Architects (Darwin), Peddle Thorp Architects (Cairns) and the Aboriginal Environments Research Centre (Brisbane).
While POD hasn’t been involved in private residential projects in Townsville to date, they were involved in the NRL Cowboys House – a new facility designed to help young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from remote areas in Queensland complete their secondary education and access school-aged apprenticeships. Shaneen is a specialist in Indigenous engagement and architecture and has worked on a number of projects in Townsville and Palm Island with Government and the Indigenous community. She and Belinda have also been working with JCU on various projects including the Tropical Sustainable Case Studies Project (2013).
“One of my favourite features of the house is the suspended walkway to the master bedroom.” – Stewart Lockie
Sustainability-informed design decisions from siting and climatic performance to material selection are signatures of The Big Small House. Materials used included locally sourced plantation timbers, low VOC paints, raw blockwork finishes and E0 cabinetwork. There’s also a rainwater tank and connectivity for a future photovoltaic system. The 238m² dwelling sits easily on the 612m² suburban lot, leaving more than 70 per cent of the site for landscape and pool.
The single skin polycarbonate sheeting with expressed timber frame is a reference back to single skin Queenslanders and Japanese residential construction.
“One of my favourite features of the house is the suspended walkway to the master bedroom,” Stewart says.
“It feels like you’re way up in the air and you can pretty much see everything, inside and out. The house does everything we need it to. The spaces are flexible and we all have somewhere we can retreat for a bit of privacy.”