Architectural design inspired by an iconic Aussie hat

HATS OFF: The Upside Down Akubra House was designed by architect Alexander Symes. Photos by Barton Taylor. Produced with BowerBird.
HATS OFF: The Upside Down Akubra House was designed by architect Alexander Symes. Photos by Barton Taylor. Produced with BowerBird.

Located in the middle of a bull paddock approximately 50 minutes south east of Tamworth sits an off-grid home inspired by the iconic Akubra hat.

The inspiration transpired at the first meeting of architect Alexander Symes and his clients on their farm. The client had selected somewhere quite specific as the site for their new home, a slice of the land with amazing 360 degree views. One of the key challenges for this project was immediately apparent: how to create a low energy, thermally comfortable home that celebrated these views.

It was at this point Symes asked his client for his Akubra. Placing it upside down, Symes explained the concept for the Upside Down Akubra House: a single large-scale roof, reminiscent of the brim of the legendary hat, overhanging the house below. At 2.5 times the size of the building's footprint, the roof would block out the summer sun, yet let in the winter sun to warm the central thermal mass that would form the spine of the home. It would also catch rainwater to run the house, all with a functional home underneath celebrating views in every direction.

The building generates and stores all its own energy, and collects enough water to run the house and treat its own waste. Living off-grid is not a new concept, but necessary in this remote location with its extreme weather conditions. The off-grid features start at the carport, which stands 4.5 metres at its tallest point and covers an area of 80 square metres. The entry to the home is also where you'll find the single 450 millimetre diameter gutter that collects all rainwater from the 560 square metre roof. The water is channeled to a single point, then free falls into to a simple concrete trough.

A first glimpse of how the house has been nestled into the unique natural surrounds is revealed at the air lock front door. The air lock is made up of two three-metre tall Blackbutt timber framed glass doors, providing a clear view to the grove of native eucalypts. This brings the natural environment into the house, blurring the lines between the inside and out - an important theme throughout the house.

The home then opens up into the open plan study, living and dining areas. The central spine of the building houses the utility and service rooms, leading to an open plan kitchen which flows seamlessly to the large bluestone patio. This creates outdoor rooms that extend the inside out, providing additional opportunities to feel connected to the land.

The west wing of the house contains the modest bedrooms, which have a low window-to- wall ratio to provide privacy and improve the thermal performance of these spaces in the harsh western sun.

The client's brief was for a robust and practical house, so taking cues from simple, practical rural buildings, the dwelling has a metal, timber and concrete material palette. Symes describes the house as "dematerialised", with exposed joinery and concrete walls. The floor is polished concrete with an aggregate that reflects the warm colours of the land and the greens of the bush. Integrated in the floor is in-slab hydronic heating and cooling, which is powered by onsite renewables.

To further manage the extreme temperatures during the year, the facade and roof are highly insulated and sealed with a high-performance water permeable membrane. To provide fresh air to all the rooms without losing or gaining unwanted heat, the ceiling void is fitted with a heat recovery ventilation unit which circulates fresh air to each room and is fitted with a heat exchanger, reducing energy losses.

The Upside Down Akubra House successfully responds to the extreme climatic conditions, has a light touch on the landscape, harnesses natures energy for sufficiency, and connects to the surrounds on which it stands.