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RebUildiNg AfTeR The devASTATiNg viCToRiAN 2009 bUShfiReS, ChRiS ClARke CReATed A SmAlleR, gReeNeR home – AN exTRAoRdiNARY home boRN fRom iTS impASSioNed hiSToRY
Words SaSha Shtargot PhotograPhy rhiannon Slatter
around 130 tonnes of rock from the local quarry were used in the landscaping of the home to provide an alternative to timber decks (which can be burnt).
It’s an old clIché to descrIbe lIfe regenerated out of
shattered dreams as a “phoenix rising from ashes”. Yet for Chris Clarke the phrase has a starkly literal meaning. From the remains of twisted metal, glass and concrete that was once his home has come an inspiring symbol of regrowth after the devastation of bushfire. Chris, a designer and builder, had stewed for 10 years on the concept for his original house, carefully choosing a five-acre site in Callignee in Victoria’s east that to him was “heaven”. It was an untouched elevated plot amid eucalypts in a quiet valley. The idea was for a striking, three-bedroom house of mainly timber and glass that payed homage to its idyllic surrounds. It took two years to build. Six days after it was finished in February 2009, the Black Saturday bushfires swept through the area, leaving the home a mess of rubble. Thankfully he was not there. All that was left of Callignee 1, which is what he now calls this original home, was a brick wall, concrete slab, steel frame, some panes of glass and a jumble of timber, concrete and steel. Yet somehow the wreck inspired Chris to rebuild with new vigour. “The steel frame stood there in its glory. It just stood there in that strength, and I wanted to work with that,” he says. As well as the pressing need to construct a fire-proof home in an area of extreme risk, Chris was determined to make sustainability and non-toxicity key drivers in the design of this new home. After nine months of building and an expenditure of $450,000 the result is Callignee 2, a dramatic and highly conceptual statement in weathered, rusty hues that blends with the resilient and regrowing landscape. Its compelling story made it the first house profiled in Grand Designs Australia on the Lifestyle Channel.
Callignee 2 is a two-storey construction, but a scaled-down version of the original with only one main bedroom. Its bronzed look is the result of Cor-Ten weathering steel which clads the house inside and out. Locally quarried rocks, grass trees and black bamboo line the path to the front door. Unusually, the front door opens into the master bedroom but separated by a Japanese screen. The old office became the new bedroom. There is an ensuite with stone basin and shower surrounded with glass, including louvres to let steam out. The passage leads to a large kitchen space (“the heart of the house”, as Chris describes it) with concrete and steel island bench, dining area and window opening out to a lap pool. At the end of the kitchen there is a free-standing fireplace. Polished, hydronically heated concrete floors lead down to a living area framed by a large glass panel that forms one side of the pool. Timber stairs lead to a loft bedroom on see-through mesh floor and north-facing study with Sisal carpet. Much of the roof space is devoted to gardens of grass trees and native grasses. Chris has tried to keep the embodied energy of Callignee 2 low, re-using and recycling as much from the first house as he could. The kitchen bench and stairs, two of the features from Callignee 1, still bear the marks of the searing fire. Double-glazed glass panels from the original home are reborn in the new. Reinforcing the home’s image of durability, cast-off eucalypt hardwood from Melbourne’s Princes Pier forms the ceiling of the master bedroom, the dining table, bathroom vanity unit and some of the flooring. One of the novel aspects of Callignee 2 is the abandonment of many of the most conventional aspects of modern homes. There is no trace of plasterboard, no architraves or skirting, and no tiles. “I wanted smooth,
the concrete slab and the concrete and steel kitchen bench survived the inferno that destroyed the original home, Callignee 1. the imperfections, brought on by the heat of the fire, were embraced during the reburnishing and repolishing process, lending the home its unique aesthetic. Cooking appliances in the home are run by gas, the only fossil fuel used in the home.
taken shortly after the fires of February 2009. Photo by Chris Clarke
Callignee 1 was reduced to little more than rubble. Photo by Chris Clarke
As well as the pressing need to construct a fire-proof home in an area of extreme risk, Chris was determined to make sustainability and non-toxicity key drivers in the design of this new home.
the mezzanine bedroom and study with Sisal flooring and Princes Pier brushbox timbers throughout. Chris wanted to keep the house “free and open” so the upstairs bedroom is open plan with metal grate flooring to see through to the room below. internal blinds shade the northern glazing over the study.
the stairs from the original home survived the devastating fires of February 2009, with only the bottom and top treads needing replacement.
Chris opted for a mineral swimming pool over salt or chlorination. Water from the pool can be used on the garden and the magnesium and potassium are said to help reduce stress, aches and pains.
It was profoundly important for Chris’s healing process to rebuild: “The home has a bush casual ambiance, comfortable in its new skin – a skin with soul and a very real heritage now.”
clean lines,” Chris says. But perhaps the most important absentees are the ones that make many houses toxic – no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were used in the joinery, and the house is free of paint. Chris had suffered chronic fatigue for six years, a condition brought on by travelling in remote South America and not helped by a hectic, corporate-driven lifestyle. Non-toxicity became a pillar of his recovery process after spending time at a health centre in Mexico. Sean Hamilton, a designer who collaborated on the project, describes it as a “very special home”. Sean says it was profoundly important for Chris’s healing process to rebuild: “The home has a bush casual ambiance, comfortable in its new skin – a skin with soul and a very real heritage now.” Concrete water tanks on site have a capacity of 80,000 litres. In further keeping with the philosophy of sustainability, the waste from the house goes into a blackwater system sunk into the earth. Remarkably after the destruction of Black
Saturday, Chris has no fear about future bushfires. The house’s frame is covered with Firefly, a fire-proof material designed to withstand extreme conditions. He is confident Callignee 2 will not suffer the fate of its predecessor, despite the home being in Flame Zone (BAL-FZ), the highest category on the Victorian Bushfire Attack Level of risk. “There’s nothing here to burn,” he says, referring to the prominence of Cor-Ten steel and glass. [Ed note, as noted this house falls into the BAL-FZ category, the highest bushfire attack level under the Australian Standard for building in bushfire-prone areas. If you are looking to build on a rural property your home must be assessed to find out its BAL rating and you must ensure the materials and construction methods used meet the BAL level of your site. Contact your local council and the Building Commission (www.buildingcommission.com.au) for more information.]
this bathroom is a radical departure from standard homes without any tiling whatsoever. a concrete slab floor and Princes Pier reclaimed timbers are used for the vanity and wall panels.
the master bedroom with reclaimed wharf timbers making up the bed head and the ceiling of the bedroom. this is a home with no tiling, plasterboard, skirting boards or paints – the ultimate in durability and low maintenance.
desIgner sustaInable features
Chris Clarke & Sean Hamilton —
www.swale.com.au www.hamiltondesign.com.au —
owner builder, SWALE Developments —
New building —
Callignee, VIC —
Renewable Energy East Coast Green Energy solar system (0429 795 570) [Ed note: Chris recently installed a 16kW solar system for the home, upgrading from the smaller system originally installed. While acknowledging that this system is much larger than a system conventionally installed for residential purposes, Chris wanted to ensure that he could rely on solar throughout the winter months, without needing to use his backup generator. He also wanted to ensure the system performs year-round - despite the heavily treed site to ensure his pool can be heated as needed. Our technical editor recommends solar hot water systems utilising evacuated tubes or flat plate technology as a more efficient way of heating water than photovoltaic panels.] Water saving 80,000L rainwater storage in tank on roof Active heating & cooling Hydronic floor heating fuelled by the Benson heat pump Windows & glazing – Sunergy louvre windows with ironbark frames throughout from Mountain Timber Products www.mountaintimberproducts.com.au – The glazing throughout the house is Viridian’s Sunergy IGUs argon filled Evantage low e/ argon/low e with a U-Value of 1.3 www.viridianglass.com Lighting Lights throughout the house supplied by Mance Design www.mance.com.au Building materials – Kitchen joinery by Broadbent Cabinets (03) 5134 3666; email@example.com – Timbers throughout the house supplied by Dahlsens www.dahlsens.com.au – Jarrah or Ironbark timber reclaimed from Princes Pier Melbourne. Supplied by Timbersearch www.timbersearch.com.au
Other ESD features – Black and grey water treatment system – Passive fire protection lining in the roof by TBA Textiles Firefly www.tbafirefly.com.au Firefly Plus 60 is a 10mm thick glass based composite fire barrier material that can be used in vertical or horizontal installations (ie, roof or walls). It has been tested to provide at least 60 minutes of integrity and 30 minutes of insulation when installed correctly. Use of materials such as firefly barriers can be the difference between a house surviving relatively undamaged or burning to the ground in a bushfire.
gRoUNd flooR plAN
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living Dining lap Pool Kitchen laundry Bathroom Bedroom Carport Main entrance
$450,000 [Ed note: Please note this figure was achieved due to Chris’ extensive building industry experience. He codesigned, project managed, worked on-site, and sourced his own materials at trade rates.] —
house 170 sqm; land 5 acres
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Cor-ten Cor-Ten steel supplied by Bluescope Steel www.bluescopedistribution.com.au Cor-Ten or weathering steel was used for internal and external surfaces as a replacement for traditional building products such as cement sheeting and plasterboard. The weathering steels react with oxygen to produce a very dense rust oxide layer, which inhibits further corrosion into the material – it actually becomes more resistant to corrosion over time. After an initial two to three weeks in which Chris had to “water” the panels daily to encourage them to rust, they now require no maintenance. After weathering the panels in, Chris coated the lower panels with a water-based urethane to ensure the rust doesn’t rub off when you’re walking past. Metal panels such as Cor-Ten have high thermal absorption and thermal conductivity, which means on a hot summer’s day they heat up fast and pass the heat through them into the house. To mitigate this problem, Cor-Ten cladding should be well insulated and an air barrier added between the steel and fixing surface to reduce heat transfer.
fiRST flooR plAN
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Deck Study Void over living room below Bedroom rainwater tank roof garden
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