On 1 July, a full bus of AAA supporters attended a Hunter Valley Bus Tour lead by Brian Suters of Suters Architects. Amongst the building we visited, the most unique project was the Longhouse, a tourist accommodation project conceived, designed, built and run by a group of students from the University of Newcastle.
The three two-bedroom units are arranged side by side in a long rectangular building facing 25 hectares of Chardonnay grapes vineyards. The middle of each unit is the the living room and kitchen with is a bedroom with ensuite on both sides. The longhouse is styled on a traditional Australian woolshed. The cladding timber was recycled from a 130-year-old woolshed in Western Australia.
The smooth polished concrete benchtop and the floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors contrast well with the warmth of timber. The entry side is a sliding corrugated steel wall, allowing two sides of the unit to open for pleasant summer breezes while in winter, the fireplace and the angle of the eaves allow winter sun to warm the interior up.
The project was conceived by a group of architecture students from the University of Newcastle. After completing their third year, they started this project other than going to work in an architectural practice for practical experience. Two of the students, Dean Williams and Jo Baker were there during our tour to tell us about the project. They recalled in a lecture, Glenn Murcutt, the Founding President of AAA, said one needs to understand the contruction process in order to design good architecture. They then thought, what would be better to understand the process then designing and constructing a building themselves? They gathered several like-minded students and sourced initial funding from their family and eventually bought a vineyard in the Hunter Valley.
During the design and construction process, a lot of professionals and suppliers offered help, they also recruited architecture students from overseas to help on site. After two years, the project was finally completed in late 2011. Since they started taking bookings for the accommodation, the response was very good and weekends are fully booked three months in advance! The students not only learnt a lot about constructions and management through making their design into reality, they have also demostrated great entrepreneurship, a skill which is almost impossible to learn by working as a year-out intern.