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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Balonne River House in St George, Australia by Fulton Trotter Architects

February 7th, 2012 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Fulton Trotter Architects

The three wings of the Balonne River house each comprise a separate function. The master wing, closest to the river, contains the main bedroom, en suite, robe and the study come nursery.

The living wing is a large open space divided by an elliptical ‘stone’ shaped kitchen which provides a visual barrier from the front door. The kitchen also acts as a screen to divide the living wing into a more formal space with a fireplace, whilst at the other end the family space breaks out onto the covered deck.

The bedroom wing contains three bedrooms and guests room with en suite. The bathroom and toilet are in separate spaces that are accessed via a powder room/vanity space.

Separate wing will incorporate the carport.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

  • Architects: Fulton Trotter Architects
  • Project: Balonne River House
  • Location: St George QLD 4487, Australia
  • Client: Gleeson
  • Team: Mark Trotter, Belinda Gleeson, Mark Kalinowski, Tanya Walsh, Katie Martin
  • Builder: Wildman Building
  • Photographer: Steven Douglas
  • Cost: $1M

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

Briefing challenge

Tom called up Mark Trotter, who had designed his father’s house 15 years ago, and asked if we would be interested in doing a house in St George. Not long after we were on a plane to Roma followed by a two hour drive to St George to visit and get to know Tom and Liz and their site on the Balonne River. We met them in the quarters at the back of the hospital and had some tea and a long chat, afterwards we jumped back in the car to travel out to the small acreage block on the river and watched the sun set.


Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

The design all happened in the car on the drive back to Roma, two hours of discussion of what and how the building should be with no paper in site. We talked about aspect, materials, concept, client, place, environment and everything in between. The next day we sat at different ends of the office and we drew what we had talked about, the answers were the same and the Balonne House was born!


Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

The initial brief for the feel of the house highlighted the two differing opinions we would be dealing with, Tom wanted modern, white and sleek while Liz wanted the traditional, the timber and the Queenslander. The result is modern polished concrete butted against mixed hardwood and a solution that both are excited to make their new home.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

The site

A few miles out of St George, the Balonne River House sits on a relatively small acreage adjoining the Balonne River. The house shares the river bank with the ramshackle sheds, houses and assorted old cars of the long term residents, as well as the relatively new cotton property ‘big’ houses, where more and bigger is better.

Alongside these the Balonne House aims for a little more subtly and sustainability.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

The house

A cluster of three wings each with single room depth face north, at angle to the river. To the east and west of the wings solid coloured concrete insitu walls provide shelter from the extremes of the day.

The forms of the building are kept low, the roof opening up towards the river with large overhangs all around.

The original concept included mounding of the earth surrounding the house, the intention being to recreate the subtle rise and fall of the surrounding landscape with the house acting as the distant hills. This mounding would also act as a barrier (to noise and viewing) from the Balonne Highway and create a more interesting approach for arrival to the house.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

The materials

The palette of materials was selected to maximise their integral qualities, to allow a true representation of the material.

Concrete is the anchor material, used in a number of applications. The first is the connection to the landscape provided in the ‘Firecracker’ red insitu walls. These panels extend beyond the ground and set a horizon line on the building. The rough saw timber formwork on the external edges reflects that layering sediment of the soil.


Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

Concrete is also used in the floors, this time polished standard grey concrete with a standard aggregate. The floors are polished and the aggregate though standard includes flecks of red and yellow stone as it is sourced within the area.

The final application of the concrete is in a black concrete bench top, that once again is polished to reveal the standard aggregate with flecks of local colour.

Timber is also a strong element within the scheme. Sizable exposed beams run between structural steel columns along the length of the building. The main living wing has a touch of warmth and tradition with the Australian mixed species timber floor which has all the character of a Queenslander.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

An insulated composite metal roofing product has been used to create the simple skillion plains of the roof. These panels where possible have the flat metal cladding on the underside exposed as ceiling or soffit, other areas where acoustics become an issue have perforated plasterboard to the underside. A custom folded metal fascia edges the roofs and is met by a half round copper gutter.

The rhythm of the building is set up with the exposed structural steel columns.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas


The Balonne River House by necessity is sustainable, located just off the grid for many of the services that are taken for granted by the urban population. But beyond necessity the building employs passive and mechanical methods to improve the living environment and foot print of the building.

Along the bank of the Balonne the majority of houses are built to face square on to the river, despite its North West aspect. This house sits at almost 45 degrees to the river so that, while it still captures the views to the river, it minimises solar heat gain during the hot summer by having the smallest faces of the building facing west. These faces are also protected by the thermal mass of the red in situ walls that helps delay the heat from transferring into the house.

To maximise access to natural daylight and cross ventilation, the massing of the house is divided into three elongated wings. Each wing is only a single room depth and allows the users to modify the amount of opening to both light and breeze. The single … has been particularly successful in taking advantage of cool breeze flowing across the river and through the house.


Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

Whilst the wings allow access to light and breeze they also allow the entry of sun into the house to be controlled. Large overhangs span beyond the walls allowing access for winter sun but excluding summer sun.

The composite panel roof is used to keep a very simple profile both inside and outside by removing the need for trusses and removing additional supports by increasing the ability to span.

The composite roof also contributes to the sustainability of the project by incorporating the sustainable thickness of insulation with a light roof colour to reflect heat.


Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

The Balonne River House is not connected to mains water on sewerage. Instead it collects its own water and treats its own waste. Four interconnected tanks, each storing 20 000L, collect the rainwater from the wings and garage. This water is first treated before being supplied to all uses within the house. Following the use of the water it is collected and passed through a treatment system which in turn is then used to irrigate areas of the landscaping that are beyond 100m of the river.

Solar energy, though not included at this point, is designed to be included in the future and will be placed on the carport roof which faces the opposite direction to the other roofs to capture the northern sun.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

Press statement

The Balonne River House is a five bedroom home situated on a long, narrow five acre block fronting the Balonne River, just off the main highway leading into St George. The clients have a long standing connection to Fulton Trotter, with their fathers’ house also designed by Fulton Trotter in the 1980’s. Out of a desire to create ‘something different’ in the local context, the Balonne River House was conceived.

The house is sited high on the rural block, ensuring the design captures the perfect northern orientation, cool summer breezes, fantastic panoramic river views, whilst also avoiding recent flood levels. The home focuses on notions of passive design, simplicity, and self-sustainability.


Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

The building form is inspired by the desire to create separate master, living and bedroom wings, whilst ensuring focus on the above principals is maintained. This was achieved through the single room depth of each wing, large cantilevering roofs (constructed out of insulated composite roof panels), an outdoor living space and extensive use of glazing to the north. Furthermore, breezeways clad in polycarbonate sheeting create an interesting transitional link between each wing. The striking red insitu concrete walls to the east and west anchor the delicate and light-weight elements of the wings – the textured formwork mimics the laying of the surrounding red soil, whilst their solidity provides vital thermal massing qualities. Internally, the spaces are flexible and modern. Polished concrete floors and polished hardwood floors contrast against the crisp white walls – not to forget the curved 3 tonne polished concrete bench top, creating a focal heart linking all three wings and acting as a gathering space within the centre of the home.

Due to the homes rural locality, it was a requirement that the home be self-sufficient – harvesting all of its own water and processing of waste. This was achieved through the inclusion of four 20,000ltr rainwater tanks complete with filter system and its own on site waste water treatment system which reticulates into the property’s garden.

Image Courtesy Steven Douglas

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Category: House

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