Treehouse a diamond in a city of gold…


Many of those flocking to the Victorian goldfields to seek their fortune initially set up tents made of thick canvas that offered little protection from the elements and surrounding wildlife. Even families who spent time setting up a more permanent home were basically living in huts made of rough wood, canvas, hessian bags and wallpaper made of newspaper.

Huts like these populated the oldest part of the goldrush city of Ballarat, East Ballarat. Unlike the grand, Victorian mansions and civic buildings of West Ballarat, the East had what historian Weston Bate described as “a restless larrikin quality” whereas the West of the city represented “what British migrants hoped for in Australia” in terms of material wealth.

Residents of old Ballarat East were known for their determined, working class spirit arising from its traditional poverty. In large part, the poverty of the area discouraged the kinds of development experienced in other suburbs of Ballarat, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, much of the residential and business architecture of Ballarat East still exists from the 1860s through to early 1940s despite the suburb becoming integrated into the City of Ballarat in 1921.

Yet despite this region’s rich local history it was not a heritage overlay that governed the design of one striking new house on the fringe of Ballarat’s Eastern suburbs but a planning overlay protecting koalas. Nestled among native vegetation in a location overlooking the regional city, sits a family home which in the words of architects Porter Architects “engages every element of the site”.

The strict planning overlay protecting the surrounding native vegetation and its resident koala population dictated the small footprint of the building which is organised into 4 areas: a central “transitional” entry zone, a public living zone, private sleeping/amenity areas and a large courtyard which all the other spaces can access.

Designed to be a seasonal and 24-hour experience, the house provides light and expansive views during winter and in summer, a raised platform and large open areas within, encourage cooling cross ventilation.

The interior courtyard is protected from the elements and can be used as a second living space. At night the lights of Ballarat can be seen through large windows through the surrounding eucalyptus trees.

These eucalypts have provided the backdrop and the inspiration for this house. It has been wrapped in vertically clad native Australian hardwood board and batten cladding which was locally sourced and satisfies the stringent guidelines of Responsible Wood certification. This certification was also a requirement in achieving the home’s 6-star green star rating.

The architects explain their choice of vertical cladding by saying “this emulates its vertically native treed environment whilst light and shadow change on the three-dimensional cladding throughout the day’s progress.”

Internally, a consistent focus on texture is applied. Beautiful Australian recycled Tasmanian Oak floorboards were found from an old Ballarat demolition yard bringing part of the history of Ballarat into the house and becoming part of the story of this family home.

The two main living/ private pavilions are defined by a dark stained Australian hardwood ship lap vertically clad entry circulation area which welcomes visitors and continues the textural aesthetic. On exploring the rest of the house, character filled native hardwood joinery celebrates the craft of local tradesmen and qualities of local wood while remaining perfectly in harmony with this tranquil bush setting.

It is a far cry from the ramshackle houses of the goldfields and has used local wood as a tribute to its beauty and ability to blend into its bush surroundings. A family home that is now playing its part in this historic city’s future.

The East Ballarat House project has been short-listed as a finalist in the 20th Australian Timber Design Awards in Melbourne on October 17. Responsible Wood is the sponsor of the Australian Certified Timber category.