Austin Maynard Shacks Up

credit: Peter Bennetts

It is the same all over the world, apparently; the cabins and cottages and getaways and beach shacks built in the fifties and sixties aren’t big enough or good enough for the 21st century and get demolished to make way for McMansions on the waterfront. Even wonderful buildings like those of Andrew Geller in the Hamptons are mostly gone. When I practiced as an architect, summer cottages in the Muskoka district of Ontario were the bread and butter of most young offices, but I just so loved the old cottages that I kept saying no to knockdowns.

credit: Peter Bennetts

Andrew Maynard of Austin Maynard has also drawn a line in the beach sand, writing that “there are too many beautiful old shacks being demolished, and Austin Maynard Architects won’t be part of it.” But they had a client who asked the right question: ‘how could we add a clear and elevated view of the ocean without demolishing, damaging or dominating our beloved shack?’ This is not surprising and is an attitude Austin Maynard has expressed before in many TreeHugger posts; if the job isn't interesting and if they cannot do what they believe in, they don't do it. That's why we have written so many posts about them. Some of our favorites: There's a place for everything in Andrew Maynard's Mills house Andrew Maynard blurs the line between inside and outside What is sustainable design? A look at how Australian architect Andrew Maynard does it The architects respond to the problem:

credit: Peter Bennetts
It’s a simple brief, but inherently problematic. Solutions can easily become expensive and complicated. After stumbling through the complexities many people choose to demolish their shack and start again. It is an economic decision that many shack owners make, at the expensive of local and family heritage. Our challenge was to avoid doing what some neighbours, and many other people along the coast, have done. We refused to have yet another Great Ocean Road shack sacrificed and replaced with a McMansion. We refused to be part of the slow erosion of the Great Ocean Road’s collective cultural memory. [Clients] Kate and Grant couldn’t agree more.
credit: Peter Bennetts

So they popped a box on top of it. But like all of Austin Maynard’s work, it is not just an ordinary box.

Dorman House is a finely crafted timber box, independently constructed to hover over an existing beach shack in Lorne, Victoria. In contrast to the neighbours, it has been designed to weather, to go grey, to age, and sink back into the landscape, back into the bush.
credit: Peter Bennetts
The elevated extension sits on top of a heavy timber structure and comprises a kitchen, dining and living room, accessed via a spiral staircase. Polycarbonate was used as a lightweight cladding to infill the structure below, creating a useable space without adding mass that would dominate the original property. The new living space does not protrude forward over the ridge-line of the old house and avoids dominating the original shack unnecessarily.
credit: Peter Bennetts
Whilst the old kitchen was transformed into a second bathroom and laundry, the original beach shack remains mostly unchanged. It was tidied up and repainted, so that the charm and character of the post war shack was retained.
credit: Peter Bennetts

As with all of Austin Maynard’s work, they often do things in original but complicated ways, just for fun. So the structure is built up by bolting dimension lumber together into columns and beams, and of course there will be decorative bolts and heavy metal gusset plates with gaps between the lumber to turn the whole structure into a decorative element, instead of just screwing it all together like a normal architect might. What for most architects would just be structure, they turn it into a show.

credit: Peter Bennetts

And when they do the diagonal bracing required for wind loading, instead of just a bunch of diagonal brackets, they turn it into a giant decorative element, smack in a circulation path so you can’t miss it.

credit: Peter Bennetts

Here is a side view of the decorative beams, showing how they are put together and left out on display. Mind your head on the diagonals to the right.

credit: Peter Bennetts

Underneath the new addition, the space is enclosed in polycarbonate. It was originally going to just be used as a play area but apparently “Kate and Grant loved it so much that they wanted it as their bedroom. We added heavy curtains and huge sliding doors so that the space could have as much light and openness as they wanted. They could leave it open on a moonlit night and sleep with the sea breeze rolling over them, or close it up and curtain it into darkness for a cool summer afternoon nap.”

credit: Peter Bennetts

Second homes are always a contradiction when it comes to sustainability; how many homes do people need? But Austin Maynard explains how they fulfilled a role in society:

In the post-war period many Australians aspired to own both the suburban home and the bush/beach shack. The suburban home served the purpose of projecting an aspirational image of self to the street, whilst the shack allowed people to drop their social facade and be themselves. The home and the shack served specific functions in enabling Australians to celebrate diverse facets of their individual and social personalities. Today, sadly, we see the steady demolition of the Australian shack....At Austin Maynard Architects we do our best to avoid the simple temptation of demolishing and replacing. Where extensions are required/desired, we aim to retain and respect the existing shack and its scale.
credit: Peter Bennetts

And as far as sustainability of the project itself goes, this is always a compromise and a difficult justification, but Austin Maynard tries:

Like all of our building, sustainability is at the core of Dorman. It is always a challenge to maximise glass and view while also achieving thermal efficiency however we have worked hard to create big views without compromising performance. Most of the glass faces north and all windows are double glazed with thermally separated frames. There is a hood above the northern windows to shield the summer sun yet still achieve optimal passive solar gain in winter.
credit: Peter Bennetts
Along with active management of shade and passive ventilation, demands on mechanical heating and cooling are drastically reduced. The old timber decking was recycled and re-used internally. A large water tank is in place, used to flush toilets and water the garden. Where possible we have sourced local trades, materials and fittings.
credit: Peter Bennetts
In all, the most sustainable factor of this project is that we retained the existing shack. It is irrelevant how sustainable you make a new house if you knock down an existing structure. Even if you have a 9 star home, the carbon debt in the demolished house takes many decades to repay.
This is not just self-justification, it is clear that this house stands out as something ve