Page B3.1 . 05 October 2011                     
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    Postcard from an Estuary

    ArchWeek Image

    Drew Heath designed the Arkiboat, a simple, two-bedroom houseboat built for two couples to use in an estuary near Sydney, Australia. Photo: © Brett Boardman Photography

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    Houseboats, by and large, do their best to recreate the quotidian comforts of the standard dwelling in compact, waterborne form. Any greater sea-living aspirations are often left to the overreaching desires, and budgets, of the yachting set.

    For architect Drew Heath, the design of a house for the water near Sydney, Australia, deserved a new approach. "The typical model of a houseboat in this region of Australia," he explains, "is an extruded box from a pontoon. It has little interaction with the surrounds."

    As for outdoor space, something for which modern Australian houses are the envy of those confined to cooler climes, a houseboat's deck space is usually kept to the functional minimum at best.

    In his own words, Heath wanted to "provide a verandah-type deck around a series of vertical planes to be able to open up the interior to the surrounding seascape." What this amounts to is a clean-lined, modernist pavilion that floats.

    Rather than steel and glass, Heath has chosen the singular material of natural wood, which alternates with the sky-, woodland- and lake-view openings that parade around the main space and encourage the sensation of indoor-outdoor expansiveness.

    This 30-square-meter (320-square-foot) "pavilion on water" benefits further from a modernist sensibility. The Arkiboat is similar, as Heath admits, to many boats, in that circulation occurs along the surrounding deck, but here the core "house" is level with the deck.

    The effect goes beyond avoiding a change in level: it creates a much more open and free-flowing relationship than on other seagoing homes, which are usually sunk by a few steps, so that the living space becomes a sort of half-basement apartment. Keeping the house well above water level means that the experience of the surroundings is much more immediate, with wind, air and sun permeating all of the spaces.

    Though it is set up higher, the pavilion form is still low-lying and rather subtle in the natural context. A generous roof overhang protects the interior from harsh, direct sunlight, and shelters the immediate deck area, contributing, as in most modernist pavilions, to the indoor-outdoor experience.

    The smooth, warm-toned wood floor gives continuity to the interior and exterior spaces. Windows and sliding doors mean that the scenery is a constant presence, rather than occasionally glimpsed.

    The program is simple, with a living and kitchen area at the front with the steering mechanism, the main sleeping room at the rear, and a small second bedroom and bathroom in between.

    Storage is tucked under beds and in built-in units, and the kitchen is kept compact. But the living/ kitchen area does have large doors at either side that can be opened fully, making the space feel much grander than its minimal footprint.

    Supported on two stainless-steel pontoons and driven by two 25-horsepower motors, the houseboat is lake-worthy, but, admittedly, not made for rough seas. "Of course, this is no ocean-going houseboat," Heath says.

    It was designed to be used in an estuary to the north of Sydney Harbour, "for quiet, windless and waveless bays." In such a serene environment, it makes sense to rely on a low-power, simple modern design from which to enjoy the surroundings.

    A luxury yacht it is not. It is, however, a rather graceful addition to the landscape.


    Phyllis Richardson


    ArchWeek Image

    Two larger rooms occupy opposite ends of the Arkiboat — a combined kitchen/ dining/ living space (shown) and a large bedroom — while the space in between contains a smaller bedroom and a bathroom. A narrow deck provides circulation space and also serves to extend the rooms beyond their operable walls. Photo: © Brett Boardman Photography

    ArchWeek Image

    The master bedroom of the Arkiboat features operable glass-and-wood wall panels on three of its four sides. Photo: © Brett Boardman Photography

    ArchWeek Image

    Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings by Phyllis Richardson. Image: Thames & Hudson

    Click on thumbnail images
    to view full-size pictures.

    Phyllis Richardson is the author of numerous books on interiors, design, and architecture, including Thames & Hudson's XS series, about small buildings, and three titles in the StyleCity series of travel guides (Barcelona, London, and Paris), along with Contemporary Natural, House Plus, and Living Modern. She lives in London.

    This article is excerpted from Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings by Phyllis Richardson, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Thames & Hudson.


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