Glass House


Glass House

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Key facts

  • An iconic modernist pavilion within a wet tropical setting

  • The main living areas and circulation zones are literally open, outdoor conditions under cover

Project data

  • Location: Edge Hill, Cairns QLD, Australia
  • Year completed: 2013


This project is a re-presentation of Phillip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, USA – less the glass – making it a perfectly adaptable modernist prototype for contemporary living in tropical latitudes. This residence is a new housing prototype and a re-think of the possibilities of a typical suburban context within our tropical cities.

In contrast to the typical condensed street frontage, the home was setback deep into the block, providing for an expansive front garden and rear outlook onto a freshwater creek. This provided an opportunity to successfully re-present an iconic modernist pavilion within a wet tropical setting, visible from the street as a distinct alternative and new suburban typology.

The process strives for innovation and new solutions to the problems of living with climate change in the 21st century. Integration of allied disciplines was critical to the successful delivery of the vision for the project, in particular the hydraulic and structural engineering which not only facilitated the advanced sustainability initiatives but also the practical requirements for withstanding annual cyclonic weather events.

The project budget was clearly defined at the outset, not to be exceeded. The project was delivered on time and on-budget through positive management of the functional requirements meeting with the architectural intent. Finishing trades were minimised where possible, in the spirit of the great modernist houses of the 20th Century:  the house is intentionally raw yet elegant.

The lot is situated in the inner city suburb of Cairns, a few minutes away from Cairns Botanical Gardens and close to city centre amenities. The building area was flat and cleared of vegetation.

The main living areas and circulation zones are literally open, outdoor conditions under cover.

Functional ‘pods’ figure in plan to enclose bedrooms, bathrooms, a lounge / music room and an e-glazed office – all secure by way of sliding glass panels and individually air-conditioned.

A central dappled-light filled ‘internal’ courtyard features the swimming pool as a feature garden within the main living and dining spaces.

Open to the sky, this central garden provides a regular spectacle in tropical downpours as a ‘rain curtain’.

The office ‘pod’ features glazed walls that double as transparent bookshelves, conceptually as display case featuring a ‘field’ of bookends.

The client requested that the house be exemplar as best practice for universal access. Careful consideration was taken in the development of all details such that the entire house is independently accessible via wheelchair.

Materials are all honestly expressed and the detailing and junction between surfaces is absolutely clean, requiring genuine attention to detail by the building contractor.

This way limiting the carbon footprint to be controlled by the residents on an ‘as needed’ operation basis.

The home is carbon neutral in operation. All energy is renewable, provided by the large 4.8 kWh photovoltaic and inverter array with feed-back to the power grid, off-setting the use of air-conditioning and LED lighting.

The entire roof area is harvested into a 45,000 litre in-ground water tank integrated with the hydraulic systems for user control over diversion between irrigation and other non-potable operations.

“The Glass House is a complex idea of exceptional execution. It melds program requirements for accessibility and sustainability with modern design principles in a challenging tropical environment. The experience of the house is simple and beautiful and belies the complexity of thought, design and construction that made it. It makes you ask yourself ‘How much house do we really need to live comfortably in the Tropics’?” Dr Shaneen Fantin

More information on the house can be found at:

  • Base building architect/ designer: Charles Wright Architects
  • Structural engineer: G & A Consultants
  • Services Engineer: Gilboy Hydraulic Solutions
  • Builder: La Spina Homes
  • Photographs courtesy of Patrick Bingham Hall

Information and photos are supplied by the project owners and designers. The Tropical Green Building Network and James Cook University (the administrators) cannot guarantee the accuracy or authenticity of this content. Produced July 2014.