Watkins Residence, Adelaide, Australia

The Project

Pilkington Activ™ self-cleaning glass performs to its full potential

Apart from its Arts Festival, Adelaide is lesser known for its patronage of progressive architecture. It’s a difficult profession at the best of times. Good clients are almost everything and always in short supply, which is why Chris Watkins leapt at the chance to design his own house on the verdant slopes of Mount Osmond. To add to the complexity of the project, planning regulations threatened to stonewall the building application with an unassailable cliff face.

The result appears simple and uncomplicated. From the street, it presents an anonymous, almost blank façade. Little effort appears to have been expended on decoration although on closer inspection the copper façade – which has already acquired an intriguing patina – might be viewed as fish or reptile scales. The project presents a modest building footprint, minimal site disturbance and a low roofline so as not to impact neighbours.

While Watkins’ response appears a model of restraint, many of the Adelaide hills’ houses seem to be designed with the film “The Sound of Music” in mind. An appearance by the singing, waving, Von Trapp family would not entirely surprise. Glockenspiel houses with gingerbread finishes hardly seem to fit Australian or, for that matter, Adelaide conditions. In contrast, the Watkins’ house is yodel free.

Designed for his young family, the house has a flexible floor plan. But the winning pitch, not surprisingly, is the floor to ceiling glazing on the north elevation that takes in the tableaux of grassy slopes and beyond to the sea. Room dividers are vast sheets of Pilkington Optilam™ I Translucent White 10.4 with a translucent white interlayer that retract into wall cavities, eliminating stone walls and creating a feeling of more space. Undressed concrete walls provide a raw, muscular edge consistent with the expressed steel sections below.

“It’s all very old fashioned,” confesses Watkins. “Few people have the chance to build their own house. It’s something that interests me as an architect. There is this making of the thing. It’s really informative of design. If you have that physical connection with, and understanding of, materials you can design so much better. Architecture graduates have often never touched a piece of steel or felt what concrete can do in its liquid state. This was another reason why I was fascinated by the science of self-cleaning glass.”

From a glazing viewpoint, Watkins sought substantial technical advice from Pilkington. For architects and clients alike Pilkington Activ™ has been a revelation as external window cleaning can be risky, labour intensive and expensive. “I was dubious as to whether it could remain clean, but Pilkington Activ™ has really lived up to the promise,” says Watkins.

Maximising on natural light, the house incorporates glazing on the east and south elevations to introduce controlled light into the bathroom and kitchen at floor level.

Watkins views the house as a continuation of his love affair with the open plan, informal living space of Modernism. Natural light is a great informer and in this respect, an environmental consideration too. “On a simplistic level this is what the project is all about. On a technological level we were building on a tight budget, it was about using technology and materials that were available and affordable.”

Completed by a father and son team in the old fashioned way, here is a house that continues a most distinguished tradition of ordered thoughtful assembly and elegance. On a potential slippery slope, this is a house of very high traction.

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Project Details
Adelaide, Australia
Opening Date
Building Type
  • Residential / Domestic
Chris Watkins and Lisa Bishop
About the Architect/Installer
Chris Watkins
Builder: Chris Watkins/Joe Watkins; Structural engineer: Wallbridge and Gilbert; Glazing fabricator: Construction Glazing
Benefit Led Categories
  • Decoration
  • Safety Security
  • Self Cleaning