The Beach Shack

Published 2 March 2023

Written By Tiffany Jade

Surfer with Girl, Lorne c.1968 - Rennie Ellis

When we think of a beach house, so many of the thoughts are wrapped up in a swirl of nostalgia, snapshots of childhood, sensory impressions and the clarity of racing across thresholds which seem to remain open from arrival to inevitable departure. The grittiness of sand on linoleum; salt film on glass; the tangible absence of doors; navigation whittled down to movement from one patch of shade to the next; and, the ever present backing track of waves, voices of adults gathered beneath the stars outside and insects amplified at night as sounds filter through the fine netting of fly screens. These memories, indelibly printed upon the mind, have evolved through the lens of architecture across decades to define a contemporary iteration of the Australian beach house. One which intertwines those enduring memories of beach houses of the past with innovation, an effort to live better and deep consideration of what that means and what role a beach house plays in modern patterns of living.

A marked resurrection of the quintessential Australian beach house continues to take place. The rudimentary fibro shack, sometimes stilted over the dunes, has altered to assume a new sense of solidity and permanence. Resilient materials such as form and off form concrete, shou sugi ban treated native timber cladding and robust glazing set beneath deep eaves demonstrate thoughtfulness for how the built framework will cultivate an atmosphere of sanctuary and retreat year round. Anchored by a new perspective on sustainability which tracks back to its purest definition — to sustain — today’s version of a beach house has emerged as a social, cultural, environmental and lifestyle beacon.

Sunbather, McMasters Point - 1985 - Rennie Ellis

The gradual gravitation (sent into overdrive during the pandemic) towards coastal destinations which beckon for their promise of slower, more intentional lifestyle rituals has redefined the pragmatics of beach house architecture. Their once ephemeral nature, as stewards of summertime stories, has been replaced by a resolute strength and foresight into how they can foster habitation in many forms as they concertina to the whims of their occupants. While all the creature comforts of a primary residence are now integrated, the retention of familiarity and a nurturing of memory-making is often expressed through design gestures which articulate those markers of nostalgia that remain firmly entrenched in the Australian psyche. A simplicity of form continues, underpinned by the impression of four walls and a roof although often that geometry is meticulously elevated through consideration for orientation, a preference for materials which are resilient to Australia’s unique climate and elements, a seamless integration within the surrounding natural environment, intelligent fenestration to create agile homes which open up and bunker down as the elements dictate and spatial planning zoned for both expansive social informality and intimate quietude.

Albany Beach House - Archive

The modern Australian beach house celebrates resilience over the more transient qualities of a summer holiday house. Often reducing architecture to its very essence, they challenge the definition of physical boundaries by viewing the potential of the entire site, rather than just the building envelop. A poetic relationship with the landscape visually and functionally places emphasis on capturing fleeting elemental qualities - the way sunlight lays upon surfaces, slipping steadily like a rising waterline as the day marches on and giving spatial allusion to interiors designed to double when opened to the landscape. The fluidity of navigation into, around and across which seeks to dissolve boundaries between inside and out without compromising the feeling of safety and shelter. The way a building can gently inform and support ritual and hospitality through its layout, drawing people together, conjuring intrigue through captured frames of landscape and clever sight lines. This new definition of the beach house is driven by an holistic consideration of context and lifestyle which are forever engaged in dialogue.

Albany Beach House - Archive

We offer deep respect to the traditional custodians of this land and honour their ancestors who have nurtured and cared for this country for thousands of years. We pay homage to the living cultures, languages, and knowledge systems of the Noongar, Wurundjeri and all Indigenous Australian peoples.