Remarkable alpine architecture amongst Australia’s Snowy Mountains
Alpine architecture has been with us since the Inuit created homes from hides spread over whalebone frames and insulated with snow.
Of course, there were also the ubiquitous igloos of the Thule area of Greenland and Canada’s Arctic north.
The one thing all alpine architecture has in common is a need to keep its occupants warm. When the temperature plummets to minus-40, the last thing you need is a draft.
And while the mercury doesn’t drop quite that far in Australia’s Snowy Mountains, it still gets cold enough to require a warm abode.
Taking on the alpine architecture challenge
Keeping toasty was top of Mark Howard’s list when he decided to build a home for his family at Crackenback, via Jindabyne, about 15 minutes from Thredbo. Howard is a lawyer and engineer and the MD of LMay Pty Ltd, a construction company that works throughout regional NSW.
Howard and his wife purchased a block of waterfront land at the popular Lake Crackenback Resort, a purpose-built holiday destination, where Bligh Robinson (now, BVN) picked up the 1990 Sulman Award for Outstanding Architecture.
Design inspired by the notion of flight
After buying the land, the couple sat on the banks of the trout lake and watched the local ducks and water hens coming and going. They decided their new house would be inspired by the notion of flight and gave the brief to Goulburn-based architect Tim Lee of Tim Lee Architects. The design Lee arrived at was unlike anything else in the area, a steel building with two gleaming wings of stainless.
Mark enlisted George Vekiarellis to construct the home around four standard shipping containers: Four 40-footers and two 20-footers. The containers were integral to creating enough depth for several layers of insulation (r4 and r-25 batts) and in some places, the building is up to 500mm thick.
“One of the things we noticed with the container construction is that the container floors alone can be up to 100 mm thick, so you have this very robust underlying construction which has assisted with the thermal qualities,” says Mark.
Underpinning the building is a Surefoot steel footing, connected to corten steel columns, anchoring the home to the earth.
“Corten steel is a product that really lends itself to this landscape because it runs into the rich blacks and the golds we see in the environment,” he says. “On top of that, it is suggestive of the shipping containers, which are also made from corten.”
An old aeroplane or an Airstream caravan?
The home’s most distinctive element is the use of brushed stainless-steel cladding for the exterior of the home’s second floor. Mark chose the finish to provide a matt lustre, and to allow for a disconnect between the two levels, and to emphasise the ‘wings’.
“It’s all about flight. The riveted stainless steel reads as an old aeroplane, or an Airstream caravan.”
Mark says he is now in two minds about the use of shipping containers. On the one hand, they allowed for a great deal of pre-fabrication off-site, such cutting in windows, and pre-electrical and plumbing work. But on the other, he says, they limited the size of the bedrooms. “I must say, that limitation lends itself to more creative thinking, for example, beds become built in beds,” says Mark.
The home will be completed by the end of February and comprise two separate units: one two-bedder / two-bathroom, and the other a one-bedder / one-bathroom. Both will have a media room. Mark intends to rent one, and live in the other when not in Goulburn or Queensland.
“I’ve enjoyed laying my hand on this building and really getting involved,” Mark says. “It’s really been a labour of love.”