Viridian specialised glass used in Mornington Peninsula

Viridian specialised glass fulfilled the bushfire safety criteria whilst enhancing the open transparent design features of the Mornington Peninsula home

Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula was recently lauded as among the world’s 20 top travel destinations for 2015. Its selection by the prestigious National Geographic, surprised many who would have guessed Uluru, Great Barrier Reef, the Kimberley or countless other local tourist hot-spots.

Those in the know might be disappointed that the Peninsula’s attractions have just been trumpeted around the globe. Might it spark a stampede of international and domestic visitors? We will have to wait and see.

It is hardly coincidental that there is a growing recognition of the region’s landscape and its architecture for that matter. Vineyards set in rolling, verdant hills to beach houses quietly stepping among ancient ti-tree are all part of its belated, but newfound recognition.

There is no shortage of development on the Peninsula that squanders its opportunity, but some of it has a touch and feel intuitive to climate and place. Rather than the imported foreign object, it reflects local knowledge and awareness.

Despite being tamed by subdivision, much of the area’s southern arm is shrouded in highly combustible ti-tree. It’s a blessing that can quickly become the bushfire curse. With higher population densities and climate change, ignorance of the implications, risks dire consequences.

Moody Builders recently addressed the problem with Viridian’s PyroGuard 40TM – a specially processed double glazed unit that withstands extreme bushfire conditions. Moody’s went to the specialist window and door manufacturer Paarhammer. Its bushfire rated, performance laminated timber products are a rare combination of handsome technology.

Project architect Ryan Moody of Moody Builders spoke with Vision’s Peter Hyatt about how this Peninsula House was designed to adapt to a changing world:

What sets this project apart from others you have designed and built on the Mornington Peninsula?

Ryan Moody: That’s a good question. Thirty-five years ago my father built these very same clients their first house here, and it is fantastic that they returned for this, their second. That first house was originally built just around the corner. The location of this house on the sand dune of the ocean beach, informed much of this particular project’s design.

That’s quite a continuity and back-story. From a design point of view, what is the progression that has occurred?

RM: Our clients wanted a quite classic and timeless result. That’s what really informed the material selection of natural stone, stone floors, the quality Paarhammer timber windows and, of course, Viridian glazing.

Was it always your intention to make the doors and windows such a feature?

RM: Yes, from the outset. The whole spirit of this house is to feel connected rather than shut-off or enclosed. There are an extraordinary amount of windows, doors and glazing generally. We didn’t fear or avoid the elements here. It was much more about embracing them. The design not only accepts an exceptional amount of daylight and tremendous views, but also shields the hottest sun. The master bedroom really is indicative of the disappearing walls. It allows rooms to just flow into the courtyard or surrounding ti-tree.

Your glazing is a powerful element in the overall design.

RM: You will have noted that the glass is very clear and transparent. We wanted the glazing to virtually disappear so that the building is a collection of stone elements of chimney, storerooms, roof planes and flooring, seen as pure vertical and horizontal forms. The windows keep the weather out and of course, provide incredible flexibility that blurs inside and out.

It’s clearly a multi-faceted house. That handful of quality materials used well gives it a real strength of unity. Stone, timber and glass give it a very clear aesthetic. The best of this setting is obvious, but what is the hardest?

RM: The bushfire constraints were challenging. Council and the CFA suggested a different location on the site, further away from where we proposed. We engaged a fire consultant and fire engineers who modeled a fire’s likely behaviour through that landscape of national park and sand dunes. They confirmed that we could build safely on the site where we had selected.

You obviously needed a secure, highly fire resistant envelope.

RM: A huge part of meeting code was the glass, window and door-frames. You see a lot of houses in bushfire areas that resemble bunkers with small windows. We sourced a leading window manufacturer in Paarhammer who used Viridian Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rated glass. The bushfire rating required is quite extreme but it has to be. We wanted large windows and Paarhammer was the only window manufacturer we could find who could produce the size windows and doors that also met the stringent fire-rating criteria required.

It’s one of the great success stories of this project as safety codes can easily lead to such risk-averse design, you end up with a very introverted, unpleasant result. This house really reverses that scenario.

RM: It does.

The BAL rated Paarhammer frames in combination with Viridian PyroGuard 40TM glass really allows a license to design something impossible with the technology of 20, or even 10 years ago.

RM: That’s true. The glass and framing are remarkable. Should a bushfire run through there, PyroGuard 40TM transmits only three percent of the fire’s radiant heat. Drapes, fittings or carpet – anything internally which would normally catch fire in a standard construction – remains safe. Just three percent heat transfer is fantastic. We’re lucky as are the clients that this glass does quite so much. It provides fire protection, yet it has inherent energy efficiency with minimal heat transfer. Summer solar gain is minimal and with minimal winter heat loss. Overall there’s an appreciable reduction of external noise, so it’s also a very quiet house.

How extensive is the research required for bushfire modelling and window resistance in a worst-case scenario. Is it tested and signed-off for a one in a 100-year bushfire?

RM: We were drawn to them because of the firm’s research and work in developing bushfire resistant products. We look forward to working with them again. The Paarhammer bushfire range of windows and doors have been independently tested and can be used without shutters. Their window system goes to a lab where they are subjected to bushfire conditions. Those we used are rated at BAL-40, but Paarhammer also developed BAL-FZ (Bushfire Attack Level Flame Zone) which is the highest level of bushfire protection.

Once you understood the bushfire code restrictions, you must have felt your hands were tied.

RM: Yes, but that is what being an architect and builder is all about – jumping one hurdle, then another. It’s something we’re quite accustomed to and one extra task that informs the eventual design. Something else in terms of bushfire regulations is that any operable window must be screened which we didn’t see as desirable. Rather than operable, stackable windows, most of the building receives its airflow through stacker doors and tilt and turn doors. The 920mm wide, 2700mm high doors open like a standard door, but can also tilt at the top, to be used as a door or window, which help avoid the need to screen those window doors.

THE GLASS AND FRAMING ARE REMARKABLE. SHOULD A BUSHFIRE RUN THROUGH THERE, PYROGUARD 40TM TRANSMITS ONLY THREE PERCENT OF THE FIRE’S RADIANT HEAT. Ryan Moody, Architect

YOU WILL HAVE NOTED THAT THE GLASS IS VERY CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT. WE WANTED THE GLAZING TO VIRTUALLY DISAPPEAR SO THAT THE BUILDING IS A COLLECTION OF STONE ELEMENTS OF CHIMNEY, STOREROOMS, ROOF PLANES AND FLOORING SEEN AS PURE VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL FORMS. Ryan Moody, Architect

Some people fear daylight. This design proves that by using the right projections, screens and filters, the articulated glass box really does work remarkably well.

RM: That’s true. Orientation was important here too, but we really wanted a design that shaded glass walls from the most intense heat loads. The low heat gain of the glass also helped this big glazing program.

You have an interesting building footprint that provides sheltered courtyards rather than the blunt, pre-ordered box. It’s a design very shaped to site.

RM: We worked with the site contours that helped us design the garage at a sort of sublevel, and the bedroom above looks across to the north. Its skewed boomerang shape offers a south courtyard, protected from the weather and also a small, intimate outside space. The northern terrace, in front, is a bigger space. Depending on the number of people using the house and the weather, guests can decide the most comfortable outdoor area.

From a building cost viewpoint, how does such an activated, operable series of glass facades compare to a more traditional build?

RM: In this case, it is initially more expensive. The windows had to comply with the bushfire rating and the owners wish for a very light-filled house with a fantastic outlook. Aluminium window sections would be more cost-effective, but the clients were prepared to make the investment in the Paarhammer frames and they’re really pleased that they have.

Was there a light bulb, or a master-stroke moment to arrive at this solution?

RM: The clients really wanted something embedded in the site yet in a way, floating above the site. We were just doing some sketches in the office and came up with the concept of a floating roof plane above the site with vertical elements to tie in. 

Were they comfortable with the idea of operating so many doors and windows? Did that faze them at all, having to manually slide open doors, walls and windows in this age of push-button ease?

RM: They have all of those options with hydronic floor heating and ducted heating and cooling, if they want to use that. They made a point of going to the Paarhammer factory, around two hours away, in Ballan. I think that reassured them of the unit quality and they experienced how easy they are to operate.

How important is the tracking system for doors of that size?

RM: These doors are fitted with heavy duty lift-slide roller carriages so they can be moved quite easily, even for a lightly framed person. The large doors weigh at least a couple of hundred kilos each, yet slide quite effortlessly.

Your glazing approach is highly tailored and tuned on all elevations.

RM: The windows really respond to each elevation opportunity. The panoramic glazing looks to the north vista across the tree-tops. They are almost bespoke views and windows that mean even working at the kitchen sink can be quite pleasant. Another main view line the clients wanted to pick up on was the sand dune to the west, through the master bedroom. Part of the design on that direction was building a louvered roof to provide external cover wraps, but we wanted to make sure that enough light could still reach living spaces.

Do you have a favourite part of the house that most obviously comes together?

RM: I really like the strong vertical elements within the horizontal planes of the roof and flooring. The stone elements appear to have existed before the house was built and a feature of some previous dwelling. They are almost like what you see of brick fireplaces standing alone in the countryside where a pioneer’s house once stood.

Have you a favourite room or space?

RM: Sitting in the courtyard on those big rocks in the south courtyard. That area connects to the kitchen and it is really where you are outside, yet inside at the same time.

How important is client empathy in the design process?

RM: It’s why I’m an architect and I get up each morning. I happen to really like cooking and so sharing those interests is what makes you a better architect. The kitchen area has daylight coming from three directions. Rather than being cut-off, it really becomes this focal point for family gatherings. RM: My clients were quite aware that people enjoy congregating in the kitchen. This has a really generous island bench and this room is really the heart of the project. It has wonderful light at all times of the day, privacy and outlook into the bushland and dunes and it really epitomizes the considered response to site and the creation of a haven for our clients.