In many ways, Fortress House by ITN Architects is, at face value, exactly what its name implies. As an unusual counterpoint to the client’s sociable city lives, the architects were called in to create a paradise of isolation, a retreat that shuns the street, a getaway to just be alone. Like a shy friend, Fortress House gradually opens up, revealing a forest of tea trees and the horizon beyond – once you get to know it.
Fortress House bunkers itself in the tiny coastal village of St Andrews Beach, Victoria. Romantic qualities of its site, the sand dunes and wild waters of the Bass Strait, go astray when greeted by the building. Only two clerestory windows are found on its western street frontage, placed up high and set deep, so passersby need not peek. The timidness of the mighty building is only accentuated by a poetic 6-metre bridge that leads people to its main entrance.
Once past the threshold of entry and arrival, Fortress House begins to develop a change of heart. Unexpected spatial gestures unravel, the building opens up to its natural surroundings of trees and dunes with carefully framed views, culminating to a climax of a 6.5-metre tall window at the far end of the building’s central spine that floods the house with light and panoramic awe.
A sensitive siting strategy allowed for ITN to design Fortress House with a very little footprint on its steep slope. Damaging driveway works and major excavation to bring cars down were avoided, with a parking bay built just off the street on the upper level, which leads to the defined entrance marked by the footbridge. Designed for the fall of the land, the building appears to be a modest, single-storey home, but looks are deceiving, as Fortress House is much more.
The warm materiality and modern form of Fortress House was inspired by the Australian weekender homes of the 1950s to 1970s. The raw timber exterior and rusted steel balustrades of the building will age gracefully over time and take on the grey and olive tones of the surrounding coastal vegetation.
Fortress House is, in a sense, completely oblivious to the superfluous fads and trends of furnishings and finishes. The material palette of the building is expressed simply and honestly. Within its interior a modest timber, plaster and white concrete turns away from styles seen in catalogues – a brave statement for a new home, only heightened by its furniture bought from a select few op shops. That’s the playful part of Fortress House – a habitual environment quite relaxed from stress, craze and cost.
ITN Architects thoughtfully designed Fortress House with sustainable design principles in their hearts and minds. The house cools itself with cross-breezes and ceiling fans while using a small efficient gas heater in winter. The house also holds a rainwater tank and boasts a garden of indigenous plants that require little additional water. Windows to the north and west screen and baffle the harsh Australian sun.
The architects of Fortress House have self-professed the project as a gruelling, frustrating journey spanning 6 years from conception to completion. It is, however, for ITN a project that has been satisfying in regards to client and builder achieving the best possible result for a relatively small budget. Fortress House held its keep, and surely the result was worth it. +
PHOTOGRAPHY Albert Comper
1. A raw timber exterior faces the street with only two clerestory windows placed up high. 2. The arrival to Fortress House is accentuated by a 6-metre bridge. 3. Furnishings were selectively chosen from op shops to give the house a relaxed aesthetic. 4. The house opens onto tea tree-covered dunes with carefully framed views. 5. The stairs are meticulously crafted in timber with slender batten guides that hold the handrail.