Fjall Chalet

Nov 25, 2009
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Photography by Peter Bennetts
  • Designer Hecker Phelan Guthrie
  • Architect Salter Architects

Australian skiing resorts were founded by hardcore rustics who didn’t mind walking up the mountain in order to enjoy the brief ski back down. They understood the skiing experience as deeply communal, and defined by a brief, marginal ski season. The accommodation they built reflected this. Most traditional ski lodges in the Victorian Alps require the sharing of everything on a scale that makes the traditional kibbutzim of Israel feel like the Palazzo Versace. Bathrooms, bedrooms (two bunks per room), kitchen and living area are all shared.

Paul Hecker, of Hecker Phelan & Guthrie, believes that the Australian ski lodge accommodation can be summed up by simply uttering the words ‘polar fleece’. The completely synthetic, cheap but insulating efficiency of the product describes the limited vision of skiing holidays that dominated the first 30 years of developments in the Victorian Alps.

Fjall, a new luxury ski in/ski out, development at Falls Creek, is the result of three companies coming together to redefine what on-mountain luxury means in the Australian context. The chalet represents the largest commercial undertaking of developer Andrew Ryan and his company Rise Developments. Ryan engaged Salter Architects to completely redesign the existing structure and Hecker Phelan & Guthrie to deliver the interiors.

For Charles Salter, lead designer at Salter Architects, Fjall represents the seventh alpine development the firm has undertaken. The past experiences have made the architectural practice keenly aware of the unique difficulties posed by alpine terrain. “Steep slopes mean access on one side of the building may be on the first floor and on the other it is at level three,” he says. “Roof shaping must manage snow shed to avoid dumping on cars, skiers and snow gum trees. Internally, planning must solve wet and dry circulation for ski and drying rooms.” At Fjall, Salter Architects transformed a rundown 24-room hotel into six apartments that also contain a few communal spaces, such as drying rooms.

To ensure that the apartments delivered enough space for window seats and recessed balconies, Salter worked with the project engineer to hang a new steel frame from the existing roof across the whole north façade. This expensive engineering and construction process speaks volumes about the determination of the team to not cut any corners in delivering on their basic premise of creating a set of truly luxurious spaces.

In recognition of the ongoing communal nature of skiing holidays (families and friends travelling together is common) the Fjall Apartments, which range in size from 125 to 146 square metres, are designed to ensure a large mix of programs can occur simultaneously: reading in a bedroom, cooking, reclining on a day bed or watching television can all be enjoyed simultaneously without dramatic acoustic spill occurring. Large rectangular dividers house kitchen utilities on one side and storage/ laundry facilities on the other. These seriously dense structures provide a strong acoustic barrier between the living spaces and bedrooms.

The use of mid-tone blond coloured woods for the walls and a lighter stain for the floorboards provides an excellent continuity throughout the apartments that is only broken in the kitchen surfaces and the cupboards. The weight of the tables and joinery shows an understanding that these spaces will experience many a thump from heavy boots and exhausted bodies. Paul Hecker explains the furniture selection. “[It was] focused around solid timber rather than veneers, furniture that feels like it has been crafted rather than machined. Solid timbers are used, so that if people are over and the furniture gets knocked, it isn’t a big deal. These pieces are intended to patina and show their age rather than require regular replacement.”

Hecker Phelan & Guthrie has used a light hand for the fitout of these apartments. Luxury furnishings, with an Australian made focus, dominate. There are beds and ottomans from Jardan, moulded plastic Eiffel chairs and Butterfly lounge chairs, while Mark Tuckey stools, dining and bedside tables combine seamlessly with a range of classic European design pieces. A carved deer head mounted in each apartment is the only nod to the stereotypical European chalet that exists at Fjall.

Ultimately, the apartments are left open and the juxtaposition of the timber surfacing with the sweeping alpine region views is left to be the real winner of the space. This sense of calm, well-weighted gravitas is immediately appreciable from the timber clad exterior of the building. Everything about Fjall reflects a deep desire to have a sustained engagement with the Falls Creek Alpine culture. Although the landlords will lease out all the apartments to holidaymakers, the apartments are ultimately investments for personal use over decades.

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