Finalist 2023

Kennett River Tower

Lachlan Hartnett - RMIT University, School of Architecture and Urban Design / Tutors: Mietta Mullaly, Jack Heatley and James Cosgrave

Woven by sustainable principles, the Kennett River Tower proposes an immortal architectural ideal of a circular-based design.

Proposed as Kennett River is submerged into a wetland state from sea level rise, the project seeks to investigate how transformative architectural frameworks can arise from a fluctuating environment. The Kennett River Tower is proposed as a functioning ‘kit of parts’ that can be constructed, dismantled, and reconstructed multiple times over the architecture’s lifecycle. An acute awareness was developed regarding the utilisation of existing materials, the regenerative qualities of materials, the capabilities of the architecture to meet the needs of future habitation and wildlife through reconfiguration, and the ability of the architecture to return to the earth.

Design Brief:

Designed to address the impending threat of sea level rise, the project was to consider the changing site condition of the Kennett River Caravan Park and the form and function of the Great Ocean Road in the Kennett River township. Threaded through the brief was the need to consider the local inhabitants of the site, its seasonal tourists, sustainable practices, themes of preservation, and the architectural language of the proposal. Consideration was to be made regarding the longevity of the proposal, its ability to fit within the context of the natural condition of the site, and the intended use of the proposal in terms of human habitation. The brief called upon high-quality and low-cost solutions that provided minimal interventions that would ultimately celebrate and bring new life to the site as it responds to the threat of sea level rise.

This project was developed by:

  • Lachlan Hartnett - RMIT University, School of Architecture and Urban Design
  • Tutors: Mietta Mullaly, Jack Heatley and James Cosgrave

Design Process

Work began with a physical, investigative site visit to Kennett River. Observations were made regarding the existing context, the materials evident and represented in existing buildings, the natural environment, the topography, and the hierarchy of the soundscape from cars, wind, waves, trees, birds, and insects.

Integral to the outcome of the design proposal was the investigation of the site’s changing nature from the threat of sea level rise over an extended period of time. In this way, the project sought to explore how architecture - not simply a completed thing post-construction - could be reimagined and reconstituted to adapt to a changing climate and the habitational needs of its occupants over a significant time scale.

As the site would transform into its wetland state, concerns arose regarding what would happen to the existing cabins and camping grounds post-flood. What would’ve been traditionally disposed of to make way for new materials was ultimately brought to the forefront of the architectural language and structure of the new interventions. In this way, a primary focus was made on the existing materials of the site. All found materials of the camping ground were reconstituted and reused into the new cabins sitting above the new water line. Evident in the reuse of the existing cabins' corrugated roofing as operable vertical louvres on the new interventions.

It was also essential to recognise the use of interventions as sea level rise was to continue. Transcending beyond the brief’s concern for human habitation, the involvement of the natural ecosystem of the site and its changing nature was also considered. This involved considering the road intervention when it becomes no longer accessible to human occupation. Over time, the road intervention would have the capability of transforming into areas for wildlife to cling onto as sea level rise continues.

Design Excellence

Through the reuse of materials and the idea of growing out of the landscape, the project also seeks to utilise raw materials typically associated with the existing qualities of the surrounding buildings and the language of the natural surroundings. Consideration of the site is evident through the use of timber and the green, white and greys of the operable corrugated vertical louvres, which reference the surrounding tree canopy and sky.

As previously mentioned, sustainability has underpinned all aspects of the design proposal. Evident in the reuse of existing materials found on-site and through the construction and dismantlement of the interventions during their lifecycle. The reuse of found materials has resulted in small areas of the project having pieces longer than necessary and occasionally misaligned, adding character to the overall project. Moreover, some columns are too long and poke out, acting as stools and benches along the path, evident in the wetland walkway platform.

Sustainable construction was achieved through the method of dry assembly, whereby actions of bolting and screwing were applied to take complete control of the architectural and structural elements of the interventions. From this, the actions of dismantlement and reassembly played a pivotal role in the next phase of the small cabins and timber platforms. Designed to occupy less landscape, the individual cabins and platforms could be dismantled, reorganised and reconstructed into one single tower topology.

Through this control of assembly and construction, users could dictate the position of rooms, walls, balconies, windows, and doors to their liking within the confines of the modular assembly system. As a result, this engagement with construction, dismantlement and reconstruction ultimately blurs the boundaries between temporary and permanent structures. Thus, allowing occupants in the future to physically shape the architectural framework.

Design Innovation

Traditionally architecture has been perceived as a stagnant thing. And this project seeks to question this perception. The exploration of the shifting environment Kennett River will undergo from sea level rise came to catalyse how these buildings can transform and adapt to their climate and occupants. The traditional practices of dry method assembly - bolting and screwing - became the lightning rod for how the intervention of the cabins, timber platform and cabin tower would be constructed. Through this assembly method, the project questions our understanding and perception of construction as the endpoint, the final step in the process and implementation of the architecture. Post-construction the architecture could then be dismantled, repositioned, reconfigured, and then reconstructed. An immortal architecture.

The concept of an architecture’s lifecycle was explored further through the main road in Kennett River post-human habitation as it succumbs to further sea level rise. Rather than viewing humans as the sole entity that designers build for, the intervention of the road in Kennett River is proposed for the wildlife that comes to shelter there. Designed as a walkway platform running through the now-wetland state of the site. Vegetation banks and planters have been positioned along the path to help reduce the impact of coastal erosion from waves. Only essential materials and structure have been chosen for this walkway, as it is intended to slip out of the clutches of human habitation and return to the embrace of the earth, providing areas for nature in the wetlands. There is a level of imperfection with the alignment of materials and structure. Over time, these columns and other excess structures will appear as totems within the flooded wetland, providing areas for wildlife like birds to dry off their wings above the water line.

Design Impact

Through the project's open dialogue regarding its material usage, assembly method and site context, the work seeks an ideal in which the architecture has always been there, an architecture that has not come into this landscape but out of it. Indeed, it is through this open dialogue that the project can be observed and utilised as an educational tool for material uses and the construction and reconstruction of dry method assembly. Through this construction method, the project capitalises on a circular economy of materials throughout the architecture’s lifecycle. Initiating a conversation about the use of our materials, where they originate, and the lifecycle we envision for them. The predominant use of local regenerative materials, such as timber further promotes aspects of sustainable materials and resource uses.

The ability of the project to configure itself into a single tower form provides incredible benefits for the preservation and rewilding of once human-occupied environments. Individual cabins and tents occupy a significant portion of the once-natural landscape. The ability to reconfigure these individual architectural projects into a single tower reduces the occupied footprint of the urban condition. Therefore, providing more areas of habitat for wildlife, ultimately promoting healthy and sustainable ecosystems.

Such promotion of wildlife habitats is evident in the lifecycle of the Kennett River walkway platforms built upon the now wetland state of the original road. Transcending beyond human habitation, the wildlife occupation of the site played a pivotal role in terms of the site’s longevity, offering areas for nature in the wetlands to cling onto as sea level rise continues.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Enveloping the project is its utilisation of local regenerative timber materials and the reuse of existing materials throughout the project’s lifecycle. This is achieved through the architecture’s construction method of dry assembly, whereby the architecture can be dismantled, reconfigured, and reconstructed for future occupants and activities. Through the process of dry assembly, designers and builders have complete control of the lifecycle of the materials being used during the process of construction and dismantlement. Architectural elements of the existing condition, such as the corrugated roofing of the original cabins are now reframed as operable vertical louvres to the new cabins and tower, bringing new life to old materials.

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A Speculative Circular Economy Innovation

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YANA: You Are Not Alone

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