At first glance, the Mt Coolum Residence is a deceptively simple structure. With a gently tapering roofline and all the trimmings of Australia’s modern residential architecture, it’s streetside façade gives little away.

On the contrary, the home is triumphant in challenging the norm of Sunshine Coast residential architecture. Designed by Sparks Architects of Peregian Beach, Mt Coolum Residence was awarded House of the Year in the 2016 Sunshine Coast Regional Architecture.

Take a closer look, and the home begins to reveal much more. Embedded within the walls is the story of its location – both the block itself and the greater Mt Coolum locale – and the story of its residents. The owners, a young family of four, came to Sparks with strong ideas about a home with a central courtyard, privacy and single level living. The architects worked a modest budget to perfect a home that maximises its site and leverages climatic advantages of breeze and sunlight while allowing the family to live out their days in a practical and enjoyable pattern of indoor-outdoor existence.

Conceptually and aesthetically, the home is a nod to the impressive landform of Mt Coolum itself – an improbable landmark in a region dominated by coastal heath. The mountain not only provides a context for the structure of the house, it also inspired the colours and materials employed in the external structure. Great smooth pieces of cladding reflect the sheer mountain face. Sections of the façade are carved out and lined with the warm hues of spotted gum, representing where the rock has eroded away.

Mt Coolum Residence bucks the neighbourhood norm that building upwards is better. Fortunately, the block was large enough to allow the architects freedom to explore a single storey and courtyard typologies, as emphasised by the client brief. The central courtyard not only sets the tone for easy indoor-outdoor living, it was also pivotal in the evolution of the design process. Dropping the original plan of conventional right-angled pavilions, the current plan was informed by the block’s boundaries, maximising the courtyard space.

Three building structures flank the courtyard. High ceilings fall away gently from the centre, allowing light to flood the interior. Everything is in balance. Bright white walls are harmonised with joinery in Victorian ash. Breaking the home into three separate buildings has allowed effective cross-ventilation throughout each space. In conjunction with this passive cooling, the architects designed ‘breathable’ walls, allowing a constant movement of air within the walls themselves.

Environmental ideals do not end at the home; the clients wanted to bring permaculture planning into the landscape design. Food is grown in formal and informal ways about the garden – in planned vegetable gardens and dotted amongst the greater garden.

The home’s success in forging a strong connection to place, while staying true to the residents’ way of life, is encompassed within the strong, original aesthetic that looks neither out of place from its neighbours, nor the surrounding landscape. Mt Coolum Residence has raised the bar for the Sunshine Coast’s residential architecture.