Bellbird Retreat

  • 2019

  • Architectural
    Architectual Design

Designed By:

Commissioned By:

Brian Steendijk

Designed In:


Bellbird Retreat is a weekend escape to a stunning rural setting. The modest dwelling sits in a pristine bushland reserve susceptible to devastating bushfires and encourages a dialogue between man-made and natural environments. This is a model for a new aesthetic typology uncompromised by strict fire-resistant house design requirements.

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  • Given the remote nature of the rural site, collaboration was essential to ensure the assembly of the dwelling's components was efficiently achieved. The building was constructed as a kit of parts with readily available materials or bespoke components that minimised onsite fabrication. Crucial to this vision was off-site trialing completed prior to construction. On a nature reserve susceptible to devastating bushfires, Bellbird Retreat proposes a new model for fire resistant house design. The dwelling meets and exceeds the pormidable BAL 29 bushfire rating required by the fire engineer for the site.

  • Sheltering the harsh south-western face of the building from wind, sun and fire, three fortress-like pivoting brick blades are crowned by a pleated steel roof, the form of which responds to topographical features. Rising up to the near mountain, roof pleats penetrate the northern glass façade and dissolve the distinction between interior and exterior. The inspired fire-resistant roof design eliminates combustible timber rafters by utilising the structural capacity of the steel pleat depth to create a single span structure with unsupported cantilevered eaves. With extreme temperatures (below 0-40+), materials employed provided appropriate thermal mass, mitigating heat gain and loss.

  • Restraint can be a most difficult yet powerful design decision. In line with the client's wish for a contemplative and regenerative dwelling with rural sensibilities, simple tectonics balanced the building's composition, creating open yet protected spaces. The living spaces dramatically expand through curved glass facade to a layered view of the sweeping peaks. The regenerative power of nature is key to the success of the dwelling which stands as counterpoint; a moment of rationality in an irrationally beautiful environment. Bellbird Retreat has exceeded the client's brief; tempering the remote rural land, it affords its occupants thermal comfort and safe haven.

  • Connection to the natural environment is embraced through building form and materials, climatic sensitivity, and the framing of views. With a surrounding landscape of immense beauty, rooms were created as viewing apertures capturing the near 'mountain' views as well as 'morning' and 'evening' views. Bellbird Retreat's compact nature belies its capacity to accommodate six occupants. With commissioned architect designed furniture fabricated by, the sofa converts to a third queen bed, and the 'stacked' dining table expanding to two. Sitting amongst a pristine bushland reserve on a remote off-the-grid rural location, Bellbird Retreat employs typical sustainability features such as battery stored solar electricity, composting toilet, grey water disbursement trenches, rainwater harvesting and the extensive use of passive solar design to heat and cool the building's thermal mass. However, sustainability can be defined in many ways and beyond these imperative characteristics, in this example of a site susceptible to devastating bushfires the most notable sustainable impact that this dwelling makes is as a new model for fire resistant house design. Components are innovatively intertwined to maintain high aesthetic sensibilities, despite the stringent bushfire rating. The result is a dwelling that performs well into the future on all fronts including life-cycle maintenance.