Cape Schanck House strikes a stunning balance between environmental awareness and architectural flair.

Set amidst the striking backdrop of the Victoria coastline, the Cape Schanck House strikes a stunning balance between architectural ingenuity and environmental awareness.

Photography: Peter Bennetts

Over recent years, architecture has evolved, becoming more organic than ever before. Architects have been not so quietly inventing a new structural language, one that no longer rivals its environment but complements and plays tribute to it. This was the case when renowned Australian architect Paul Morgan set about creating the Cape Schanck House, a family retreat amid the rugged coastal backdrop of the Mornington Peninsula.

The Cape Schanck House was born as a project between two siblings, Paul Morgan, a Melbourne architect, and his London-based sister. The house would be an ocean retreat, shared by the two small families. Inspired by the modernist forms of Chancellor & Patrick and John Lautner, Morgan discovered the plot and began sketching plans for the family home while staying with his sister in Amsterdam. "What struck me about the block were the remarkable forms of the tea trees, generated through phototropism. Luckily, the land was still available when I returned to Australia," Morgan recalls.

As the project progressed, the architect literally found talent in his own backyard, as he enlisted the help of neighbors Drew Head, a talented local builder and carpenter, and landscape architect Sally Prideaux. Working with the neighbors made for an interesting experience. "Drew would go for a morning surf, and with his friends and fellow tradesmen, who were similarly skilled, they would get to work on the house each day," recalls Morgan. "Sometimes the builder and I would go snorkeling if there was a hot northerly wind and a low tide, and swim with the stingrays and Port Jackson sharks. It was anything but the stereotypical architect/builder relationship."

The most important aspect one gleans from the project is that every step of the process was completely organic, from concept to construction. Each detail of the construction relates to the kinetics of the environment. "The shape of the entrance panels was an outcome of modeling the wind action," Morgan says, referring to the wind that blows in unimpeded and mercilessly from the Southern Ocean. The shell of the house forms an aerodynamic external skin that effuses into the interior, an idea inspired and informed by the elements. "The wind scoops on the south elevation are a kind of peeling of the skin. These scoops trap cooling winds during the summer whilst providing shade from the hot afternoon sun." Around the front entry area, panels are warped, as the idea of wind pressure forced into a contained space dictates the shape. Vertical operable louvers at the rear of the building employ yacht technology to protect the house from the harsh sun. Though there is a slightly futuristic feel to the design, traditional Australian architectural elements, such as the stained timber terrace, add a familiar, homey feel.

Environmental concern, for which the Cape Schanck House has garnered much merit, not only informs the external architecture, it also bears influence on the layout of the interior. The most outstanding feature of the main area is the striking white form among visceral supports, which sensually coerces the layout within the heart of the home. This is no mere design detail, but a cleverly created internal rainwater receptacle, which it draws in from the roof, resembling a giant water drop. In addition to the aesthetics of the sculptural form, which dominates the space, "The bulb tank fulfils several roles. It is the locus of the house, a sort of technological mandala, shifting the fireplace and hearth to a secondary role. It organizes the living space into four discrete areas: kitchen, living, eating and work. It is also structural, and supports the roof," the architect explains. However, the bulb's main role is to harvest water within the tank, which is used for washing and irrigation during the summer, as well as ambiently cooling the living room, alleviating the need for air conditioning. As one carefully listens to the water as it soothingly drops into the internal tank – its own personal pulse – one feels that this is a home with a heart.

Biography of an architect
Paul Morgan

2002 Established Paul Morgan Architects

Important Projects:
2007 Box Hill TAFE Precinct Plan
2006 Cape Schanck House
2006 The Avenel House
2006 Newman College Refurbishment (University of Melbourne)
2005 San Yuan Company Headquarters, Changzhi, China
2005 SIAL Sound Studios (RMIT University)

2007 The Cape Schanck House was one of only twenty projects nominated globally for the biennial Zumtobel Award

Shortlist, Royal Australian Institute of Architects Awards:
2006 Newman College Refurbishment - Victorian Chapter, Heritage category
2005 RMIT University SIAL Sound Studios - Institutional (Alterations and Extensions) category
2003 RMIT University School of Computer Science & I.T. - Institutional (Alterations and Extensions) category
2000 Monash Faculty of Information Technology Interior - Interior Architecture category

Commendation, Royal Australian Institute of Architects Awards:
2001 Lecture Theatre, VUT Werribee - Victorian Chapter, Institutional category

1991 Second Prize, Companion City - Second Transition Architectural Design Competition

1987 Commendation (Transition magazine) Journalism Category, RAIA Awards

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