Curlewis House

Feb 2, 2012
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Photography by Peter Bennetts
  • Designer
  • Architect NMBW

The Bellarine Peninsula’s sweeping arc is pronounced from the air, but at ground level the horizontal dominates. Deep views out across the water plane of Port Phillip and Corio Bays locate peri-urban Curlewis on the bayside margin east of Geelong, with the enduring profile of the You Yangs to the north and the distant towers of metropolitan Melbourne to the northeast. The depth of prospect is unusual, the scale more geological than urban. On closer inspection, the peninsula reveals itself as a ‘collapsed’ landscape, the escarpment to the bay the result of a local fault line, the Curlewis Monocline. Notwithstanding its advantageous alignment, the ground, as a result of its exposed clays having high plasticity, is considered ‘weak’.

The Curlewis House, set back from the street and the coast


For NMBW, the geo-technically challenging and highly reactive site dictated fundamental design moves. In consultation with engineers, PJ Yttrup and Associates, ground rules were established. A ‘non-build’ zone was identified parallel to the shore, but forward of a 10-degree slope angle rising from the water datum. In section, this generated a line considerably further back from the escarpment than the prevailing built pattern. To ensure escarpment stability, run off also needed to avoid the slope, and to deal with the difficult sub-surface condition, a piled foundation system incorporating suspended floor slabs were recommended. The implications on site planning and building design are now self-evident.

Internal spaces connect with the exterior


The whole five-acre, rural residential site has been harnessed to assist occupancy. Productive and recreational landscape zones combine to harvest rainwater, creating an extended garden that filters wastewater in turn. Beyond a remnant windbreak of mature gums along the driveway, and a centrally located dam, the dwelling is contour-aligned nearer the opposite eastern boundary. Maturing vegetation, hardly apparent upon entering the property, filters the view, allowing the building to be progressively revealed. The lean profile of the covered walkway, linking garage and house, provides a floating horizontal datum, its fineness accentuated by the sharp light reflecting off the bay beyond.

Different materials and construction reveal the building's logic


Being south facing, this public elevation is usually experienced as a silhouette, with the stronger northern light behind dissolving depth and neutralising scale. This allows the structure to readily become an element of the layered land- scape, a presence accentuated by charcoal tones of exterior materials and surfaces. The horizontal plane of the carport and covered way also masks the double garage and equipment store, a fine profile accentuated by a single supporting column, with the structure braced by a shallow, single-skin, nib block wall. Centered around an existing mature eucalypt, it forms a floating edge to the open entry court. On the adjacent side, a semi-enclosed roofed pool frames the dwelling beyond. Entering over a concrete pool bridge to the kitchen, the interior is revealed: white- concrete block walls in lieu of charcoal.

The pool room, on the ground level


The linear kitchen/dining/living room extends parallel to the pool as a stepped space oriented to the bay, released in part along the poolside, and to a protected courtyard. Unlike the open entry court, this ‘living’ court is enclosed on three sides, with family accommodation over two levels to the east and west. Movement within the plan is initially stretched along the contour. Then, akin to a series of mini headlands and bays, it moves forward then returns, creating the micro-climatically managed court space, before a generous corridor spine with adjacent bedrooms focuses the lower level with a second living room and porch. Nudging forward, like a promontory, this elongated eastern boundary wing offers a generous deck adjacent to the master bedroom on the upper level, before continuing via external stairs to the grassed terrace and the escarpment edge below.

The first-floor deck


The tectonic logic of the building is consistently expressed through differentiated materials and construction systems. In the kitchen, for example, the same suspended pre-cast, hollow-core concrete planks that form the floor also form the ceiling. Although a concrete screed now tops the floor with a dark burnished finish throughout, the structural system of each is unambiguous, evidenced when standing beneath the raw concrete soffit. The width of the space (5.5 metres) is thus appreciated as a ‘bridge’ spanning between the walls, perpendicularly aligned above ground beams, themselves supported above deep concrete piers. Rather than the long, contour-aligned primary building wall potentially creating a barrier or a dam (as would be the case with conventional slab and footing construction), here surface water can move beneath.

White-concrete block walls in the interior


The restrained material palette relies on impeccably resolved details to succeed. Core-filled, single-skin, white internal-concrete block walls provide material and structural integrity, reducing the role of internal steel to feature lintels. Recycled timber is set within the continuous polished concrete screed for key spaces, with the same timber dimension providing feature pieces of joinery. The remaining joinery and ceilings are limed plywood sheet, providing material continuity while ensuring the primary structure remains clearly expressed.

Charcoal tones turn the building into a landscape element


The plan remains continuous, yet comfortably contained, layered through carefully considered moments: generous window seats offering the opportunity to daydream and consider; dining-room joinery becoming an adjacent kitchen seat; pool-fencing regulations accommodated through a subtle change in level. Each space offers a measured, changing appreciation of the landscape and its elements, near and far.

The necessary investment in the site, initially in response to geo-technical complexity, has been embraced, then honed and rewarded through the architecture. For NMBW at Curlewis, the ground rules.


Leigh Woolley is the principal of Leigh Woolley Architect + Urban Design Consultant, and an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture and Design, UTAS.

Conversation • 3 comments

Add to this conversation


03 Feb 12 at 6:54 PM • Nigel Westbrook

Beautiful project. At last a large domestic commission designed with intellectual depth.

06 Feb 12 at 8:27 PM • John Latham

One really has to go to the place but it looks pretty cool to me. Freely humble in its taste which is refreshing and a great amenity in itself.

1 Trackback


Your email address will not be published.