This Off-Grid Home Is Designed to Withstand Sun, Wind, and Bushfires

A self-sufficient dwelling goes back to the elements.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects Dave KuleszaElemental House by Ben Callery Architects exterior

Dave Kulesza

As a perennial Treehugger favorite, off-grid homes can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from the tiny to the ultra-minimalist, all the way to prefabricated and modular options. Whatever form they may take, these self-sufficient dwellings represent a renewed connection with nature, where one's needs are closely tied with what nature can provide.

Out in the remote area of High Camp, about one hour north of Melbourne, Australia, Ben Callery Architects (previously) created this off-grid refuge for a retired couple looking for a simple, self-sufficient dwelling that would be protected from the harsh elements of the bush.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects exterior
Dave Kulesza

Situated on top of a hill that is dotted by a handful of lonely trees, the Elemental House is designed to immerse its inhabitants in the natural landscape -- its thick roof offering shelter from the blistering sun, bushfires, and voracious winds that approach cyclone-like speeds, while also providing sweeping, expansive views of a rugged landscape. As the firm explains:

‘Elemental’ refers to a relationship with the forces of nature but it also speaks to a desire for simplicity: an abstract geometric form and a reduced palette of materials, as we seek an architectural expression that embodies that spirit of freedom, adventure and minimalism that is synonymous with going ‘off-grid.’ The site is raw and windswept. Arriving form the city there is an arresting sense of quietness audibly and visually that heightens your senses. This quietness provides cues for the architecture.
Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects site
Dave Kulesza

With a footprint of 1,614 square feet (150 square meters), the home has an orientation for the living room that favors the spectacular views to the east, while also allowing for passive solar gain on its northern side, where the bedroom and bathroom are located.

The cabin sits on a remote site of 100 acres of former farmland. Its seclusion meant that the home had to be completely self-sufficient in terms of energy and water. To achieve this, the design includes a 24-panel solar power system that can store and provide electricity even on the cloudiest of days, in addition to two large water tanks that store harvested rainwater—all of which are located in an area near the house.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects exterior
Dave Kulesza

Besides this, a woodstove in the living room offers sufficient heating in winter, and a 5-kilowatt split-system air conditioner cools things down efficiently during the hot summers. All of the energy needs of the home are minimized, thanks to its well-insulated, thermally efficient envelope.

The extensive eaves over the house help to shelter the occupants from the brutal sun.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects decks
Dave Kulesza

Yet, there are also two wooden decks—north and south, with one holding an outdoor bathtub—which helps one to embrace the blazing sunlight.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects eaves
Dave Kulesza

The choice of Australian spotted gum timber for the exterior was not only an aesthetic one but also a practical one, say the architects:

"This Australian hardwood is so durable that it meets the bushfire requirements and does not need ongoing maintenance. It can simply go grey gracefully, quietly settling into its landscape."

Inside, the architects have the material and color palette simple and somber—darkly painted oriented strand board (OSB) for the cabinetry, the thick thermal mass of the concrete floor, spotted gum timber for the ceiling—all of it extending a visual refuge from the bright austerity of the landscape outside.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects living room
Dave Kulesza

The kitchen is laid out to emphasize that landscape, with an emphasis on horizontal lines along the counter, island, and the mirrored backsplash.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects kitchen
Dave Kulesza

Along one glazed wall, there is a low and lengthy bench, which not only meets the bushfire safety requirements that they are a certain height off the ground but also provides opportunities to completely soak up the incredible vistas beyond.

Elemental House by Ben Callery Architects bench
Dave Kulesza

As the firm says, the overarching idea is to create a stunning home where one can immerse oneself in the natural elements, even as it provides protection:

"Under this big hard sun you find yourself drawn to the shade of the few lonely trees on the site, craving shelter in a primal way. This intuitive yearning for shelter inspired our response. The form is a bold geometry. Low-slung, horizontal and squat, it is braced for impact. It is an elemental expression of the shelter that we seek from above.

To see more, visit Ben Callery Architects and Instagram.