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A Home High Above the River 

August 17, 2017
A Home High Above the River

Architect Alexandra Buchanan clearly remembers the ‘light bulb’ moment when she decided to become an architect.

Growing up in Devon (UK), Alexandra had never considered architecture as a career choice. It was Alexandra’s ‘A’ Levels art teacher who made the connection between her subject choices of science and 3D art and set Alexandra on the right path. “From then it just made absolute sense,” Alexandra explains.

Now with a successful practice in Brisbane, Alexandra is fast establishing a name for herself in the industry. She puts much of this success down to her focus on interpreting a client’s own unique style and aspiration. “The spaces we create should be an expression of how our clients live and use a space, not how we think they should live,” she says.


North Warrandyte House

Alexandra’s projects reveal a clever alliance of materials, texture and light, and this is obvious in the North Warrandyte House featured. Her design savvy clients (both graphic designers) wanted their bush retreat on the outskirts of Melbourne to reflect their own design aesthetic making the most of the natural, rugged landscape.

The long, narrow, steeply sloping site and bushfire overlay offered plenty of challenges for the design team. Undeterred, Alexandra explains that “the trick was in using these constraints to the benefit of the design outcome and maintaining a positive process throughout.”

The result is a beautiful, light-filled home that snuggles into the side of the hill yet feels like you are sitting high amongst the trees. It offers spectacular views across the bushland while the ‘twin wing’ design ensures privacy from neighbours and the river below. The use of stone, timber, masonry and glass were inspired by the local environment and showcase Alexandra’s clever use of materials and textures.


The Design Details

The clients were keen to ensure that the home would be energy efficient and sustainably built. For Alexandra, it was important that the ‘passive design’ choices were considered from inception rather than adhoc ‘bolt-on’ options added at the end.

One of the most exciting features is a full height dry stone wall in the centre of the house which forms a virtual passive chimney. Flanked by glass walls, it attracts heat in the cooler months with the wall acting as a heat sink, radiating heat in the evening which has been stored during the day.

The house also makes good use of the site orientation. A stunning, semi-submerged stone wall on the west acts to control heat gain and loss, while air flow has been maximised to help with summer cooling.


There’s a gentle warmth throughout the house. From the soft, even natural light spilling across floors to the grounding stone and timber finishes. The strong connection between inside and outside was a key requirement for the couple. As such, Alexandra made sure that there was flexibility by integrating a series of internal and external multi-functional entertaining spaces throughout the house. However, it’s the large picture windows opening up views of the magnificent bushland that are the true triumph. “The clients love it and really use all the spaces. They especially love the way the house responds to the changing ages and needs of the family.”


The home was finished in 2015 and the design team recently visited for a ‘cuppa’ to see how their clients had settled in. “It’s lovely for us to see the space evolve and take on a life of its own as the whole family craft their own corners out of it,” Alexandra enthuses. “It is the most satisfying part of the whole design journey, to see a family take ownership of a space designed specifically for them and thoroughly love and embrace all that it offers!”


We would like to thank Alexandra Buchanan of ABA Studio inviting us to step inside this beautiful home. We would also like to thank our guest writer Kate Shaw for her work on this article.

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