Location: Vatagan Forest, Hunter Valley, Australia Year of construction: 1998 Architect: Lindsay Johnston Associates: Su Johnston, Robert White Photography: Peter Hyatt. Michael Nicholson
The Four Horizons house stands on a cliff, in the middle of a eucalyptus wood, the Watagan State Forest, recently designated as a National Park. The construction, located at a height of 1400 ft (430 m) above sea level, with spectacular views over the valley of the Hunter River, is 90 miles (150 km) north of Sydney.
The essential element of this project is the holistic design of the house. The site on which it is located, with its relative geographical isolation and the absence of any public utilities (water, electricity, drains, telephone) suggest that the architect and the client wanted to go beyond conducting an experiment in extreme conditions. If the house was not self-sufficient in terms of energy and services, it would be doomed to failure.
The water supply involved collecting and using rainfall. Solar energy is used to heat the water, to generate electricity, and to run a radio that combines telephone/fax/email. The setting of the house and the constructional solutions allow for natural air-conditioning. The waste generated is processed and then returned safely into the environment. Firewood is used for cooking as well as heating.
As a traditional Australian detached dwelling, this house is outstandingly economical in energy consumption. In Four Horizons the location, setting, selection of materials, constructional method, and careful management of resources and waste were all guided by an integral conception of the finished house.
The house is built in parallel with the cliffs in order to take advantage of the morning sun in winter and the cool summer breezes, turning its back on the prevailing wind. Outside, there is a series of solar panels, the generators, the garage and stable buildings, backing onto a closed yard forming a patio.
The Four Horizons house is exceptional because of its energy savings. Not counting the contributions of the sun and firewood, its net energy consumption is about a third of the average normal consumption.
Following pages: The roofing system of the house takes the form of an overhanging double-shed roof, free-standing, using a typical Australian metal and galvanized corrugated metal sheet structure. This first roof is separared from the actual house in order to regulate the ventilation, the temperature, and the entry of light into the house, and also to provide a large area of shade where rainwater can be collected. Under the main roof there are two living areas with curved metal secondary roofs. These cover firstly the communal areas with the living rooms, dining room, kitchen, and pantry, and, secondly, a den and the bedrooms with their respective bathrooms. These two areas of the house are separated by an open corridor providing improved thermal efficiency, as well as insulacion against noise and activity.