Alexander Symes Architect
Alexander Symes Architect is a NSW based architectural firm that prides itself on combining a scientific approach to sustainability, a pragmatic response to budget and function and a poetic approach to how a space is experienced. The award-winning firm has an extensive portfolio of residential homes, multi-residential units and healthcare projects.
The Story Behind The Design
Well accustomed to designing buildings in the urban environment, architect Alexander Symes may not have seemed the most obvious choice to design an off-grid home in the middle of a remote bull farm located an hour south-east of Tamworth.However, the firm’s experience in sustainable design and the ability to connect the built form with the environment has proved invaluable for the realisation of this family home.
Inspired by the wide brim of the iconic Akubra hat, Alexander set to design a modern farmhouse that would respond to the extreme climatic conditions and celebrate the sprawling rural vistas that surrounded the building site.“The client had selected the site for their new home atop a gently sloping hill, amongst a grove of eucalypts, with the land falling sharply away to the east to a dry creek bed,” explains Alexander. “From this vantage point, the clients pointed out the vistas they wanted to appreciate from their new home: “Yella Rock” to the south, “Hanging Rock” to the east.”
Much like the brim of the Akubra, the architectural concept was to create a single, large scale roof form that overhung the inhabitable space below. “The roof would block out all the summer sun, yet allow in the winter sun to warm the central thermal mass that would form the spine of the home as well as catching rainwater to run the house; all with a functional home underneath celebrating views in every direction,” says Alexander.The cantilevering corners of the roof frame the progressive views of Hanging Rock and together with extensive use of double glazed, high-visual light transmittance glass unite the internal spaces with the rural landscape. The home’s surrounding Bluestone patio extends the opportunity for the inhabitants to “gather and feel connected to the land”.
The station manager was curiously watching on, wondering what this city-slicker Architect was going to do, when I asked him for his Akubra hat. Placing it upside down, I started to explain the concept of the "Upside Down Akubra House".
Take A Closer Look
The roof form was just the start of the sustainable attributes of the building. The site’s remoteness required all services be generated onsite and able to cope with the extreme weather conditions, including the current drought. But this wasn’t to be hidden from the human eye. Instead, the technology became the foundational aesthetics of the home.Solar cells, rainwater channels, heat recovery ventilated systems and air infiltration are just some of the eco-technologies that were left exposed and integrated into the design to educate visitors to the home’s low environmental impact.
The expansive roof form, emulating the brim of the iconic Akubra hat, sits 2.5 times the size of the building’s footprint. Visually captivating, the canopy forms a connection to the land extending the eye to the key vistas: “Yella Rock” to the south, “Hanging Rock” to the east. However, it is not all about aesthetics. The roof plays an integral role in the passive nature of the home, housing eco-technologies that make living in on dry, remote site viable.
The raw nature of the home continued with the material’s palette which responded to the site’s remoteness and the client’s brief for a robust and practical home. Alexander Symes Architect opted for a simple combination of metal, timber, concrete and bluestone. “This manifests itself in a house that is “dematerialised”, with exposed joinery, polished concrete floors and exposed concrete walls”, says Alexander who explains the materials reflect the warm colours of the land, the greens of the bush and the blue skies above.Externally, the building’s lower portion was purposefully clad in reflective zinculume steel to pick up the sun and illuminate the home in the landscape. The upper portion of the exterior was clad in contrasting monument matt to make the structure and roof recede, and emphasise the dramatic floating “Akubra” roof.
What makes this off-grid home unique however, is how the technology has become the aesthetic of the home.
The “Upside Down Akubra House” was a concept that materialised from an in-depth understanding of life on the land and a desire to celebrate all it offered while still providing its occupants with modern comforts.The building responds to the extreme climatic conditions of the isolated landscape and has a light touch on the site by harnessing nature’s energy for sufficiency. It’s not an easy feat to design a solar passive home that offers architectural creditability and celebrates 360-degree panoramic vistas. Not only has Alexander Symes Architect achieved this, but the firm has also designed a home that is as quintessentially Australian as the iconic Akubra hat.