Breeze blocks at home in Northern Queensland architecture
Taking the best parts of tropical design from the 1960s, this home utilises honed blocks and breeze blocks to create the quintessential Far North Queensland retreat.
Almost thirty years ago, Bowen, halfway between Townsville and Mackay and the home of the Big Mango, still had blokes in singlets and shorts downing cold XXXXs. Now it also has $4.90 lattés and freshly minted replica chairs. This is regional Queensland, grappling with the old and the new. The breeze block, popular in the 1950s and enjoying a resurgence now, finds its home in this tension in Chloe Naughton’s 2016 Inverdon House.
The Inverdon House is the debut commission for Brisbane-based architect. Naughton is an ex-Bowenite and her clients here were her mum and stepdad. They gave her a relatively open brief, the only stipulation being that it had to be a flexible home that could accommodate their needs later in life and potentially a full-time carer.
With this in mind, Naughton designed and managed the build of a humble, modernist-inspired, two-bedroom residence on the site of her former family home. The existing building was split in two, and half of it found a new home a mere 100km up the road.
This part of Queensland used to be known for homes with natural ventilation; residents hid under the verandah and let the breezes do the heavy lifting. With the arrival of air conditioning, suddenly, Queensland houses stopped trying to work with the climate and they lost their regional style. This is something that this young architect is trying to address.
On the approach to Inverdon House, you snake through mango trees to park in a two-car carport that has a breeze block back wall. Breeze block and block work are the big signatures of this project and, as a result, it’s a significant nod to the North Queensland buildings of old. Inverdon House echoes the caravan park shower blocks with tatty towels wedged into breeze block walls.
The house revolves around an open plan kitchen/living/dining room, which is flanked by expansive glass sliding doors on either side. One opens up to the front garden, the other to an outdoor eating and sitting area shaded by a large flat roof and a breeze block wall to one side. The open block wall allows a cross breeze through to an outside dining area and interior living spaces if the windows are opened. It may look like a stylish outdoor room, but make no mistake it is a well-executed verandah in disguise. Although both bedrooms are air conditioned, the rest of the house remains naturally cool.
The craftsmanship throughout the house is exceptional and Naughton has nothing but praise for her builder and his attention to detail. One of the biggest surprises of the build was the handiwork of her grandfather. Using skills he gained from years of making boats, he crafted aluminium to fashion a front door, decorative railings and the surround of the poured concrete kitchen bar. Not ready to down tools, he even knocked up the frame for the outdoor table, which is probably the most used piece of furniture in the house.
We usually try to put away old, but beloved, furniture for a photo shoot but nothing could be done about the two large chest freezers sitting in front of the carport’s breeze block wall. Both played havoc with the aesthetics of the house, as far as the young architect was concerned. To me, the chest freezers full of mango cheeks and cut-up cows help cement the house in its place. This is a rural home and its simplicity, modesty and considered design is utterly appropriate to its setting.
This is an abridged extract from Folio, a print publication by Brickworks. Grab your free copy.
Written by Tim Ross. All photography by Ben Hosking.