Gimme shelta

Wild and woolly Flinders needs a special kind of prefab
By tim Dubb


ying 90 kilometres off the northeast corner of Tasmania, beautiful Flinders Island rises

The house is not visible from the unsealed road that winds behind it, and the short approach down the driveway to the back of the house is equally discreet, with the house concealed by the heavy stone walls of the kitchen garden. The curved Zincalume roof and the expanse of glass beneath it are the only visible precursors to the clean, contemporary lines of the house. The roof creates a rolling contour in sympathy with the organic curves of land and sea. Beneath it, the modular components of the house, known as EcoSheltas, are integrated by a long deck that eddies around them.

emphatically from the waters of the Bass Strait, where the seas are often lashed by the Roaring Forties. This wild and beautiful island is where architect Stephen Sainsbury chose to build his house, on a 20 hectare lot of coastal heathland of scrub and casuarina. Stephen explains his challenge: “To incorporate an outdoor living style, use natural ventilation, and also to access the stunning views of the setting sun and the ocean in a very changeable climate.”


The house consists of a group of five pods spaced on either side of a curved internal walkway. The living room, kitchen and studio all open onto the expansive deck, offering ocean views. In contrast, the rear of the kitchen opens onto a large courtyard with kitchen garden and a cloistered and “defensible” feel. The aim of Sainsbury’s architectural practice, he says, is “to achieve the highest possible aesthetic return for the lowest achievable ecological impact”. The environmental costs of building are calculated using the EcoCost system, which Sainsbury developed for his research thesis.

Several features exemplify his approach – wall linings are of caneite (pre-primed pulp board), natural oils replace paints, no glues are used, and timbers are recycled or sourced from certified sustainable sources. But on Flinders it is the remoteness of the island and the shortage of labour that represent the biggest obstacles, and for this Sainsbury’s EcoShelta concept is an appropriate solution. The pods were prefabricated in a workshop in Sydney and shipped for assembly on site, dramatically reducing the time required to complete the building. “The use of marine grade structural

aluminium alloy, with its light weight and great strength, minimised transport costs and enabled easy manual assembly using light hand tools, while ensuring a corrosion resistant frame,” says Sainsbury. The aluminium also contains a high degree of recycled content. Bi-fold glazed doors complete the building, and on still days, when fully open, offer free-flowing spaces and uninterrupted panoramas of sea and sky.



Designer Location Project type Cost

Flinders Island residence
Stephen Sainsbury, EcoShelta Flinders Island, TAS Prefabricated modular house $455,000

Photography Tim Dubb

Sustainable features
• Customised solar system with wood-burning stove for boosting in winter

• Pilkington 6.38mm clear laminate

• Greywater diversion to holding tank and garden using irrigation pumpout system; 2 x 22,000L rainwater tanks with filtration and pump supply to 2000L gravity feed header tank

• Crompton Lightstar CFL downlights

• Saxon wood heater with fan-driven ducting system to heat other rooms. Uses windfall timber from property

• Plantation pine framing, recycled timber window frames

• No paints. Organoil to timber, olive oil to kitchen benches

• Passive solar; breezeway ventilation