The Sail House

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Key Facts

• House with a marina berth that responds to the outdoor, tropical lifestyle
• challenging orientation required careful design optimising cross-ventilation

Project Data

Location: Bluewater Estate, Trinity Beach, Cairns, Australia
Year Completed: 2008


The client brief required the delivery of a comfortable holiday house in the tropics.

Given the constraints of the site location the building needed to accommodate 4 bedrooms and an office, 5 bathrooms, 2 living areas and a kitchen as well as generous outdoor living spaces and accommodation for 2 cars. The client also wanted the site to be fully occupied with built form or landscaping and an absence of any lawn areas. The project also includes a lap pool and marina berth.

The building responds to the outdoor lifestyle, suited to the tropical environment.


The land fronts onto a canal and environmental regulations required all surface water and roof water to be collected and drained to mains storm water pipes and not into the canal. All stormwater pipes are well articulated for this purposes.


Bluewater is a master planned community with close proximity to schools, playgrounds, a variety of parkland, rainforest and waterfront home sites combined with a world class, 108 berth marina.
The site is a canal front block facing the long hot afternoon summer sun from the south west. The challenging orientation required careful design considerations. Also the site is in a cyclone zone and therefore the structure needs to address the issues accordingly.


The Sail House has a particularly challenging orientation facing southwest, open to the summer western sun and prone to the wind-driven monsoon rain. In order to overcome these down sides, the rear roof was designed to draw air from within the house. Its shape, angle and size acted in tandem with openings at the other end of the house to create cross ventilation both internally and in the outdoor living area.

The philosophy used in the development of the concept is based on a 90% design suitability principle, i.e. if the layout and usage works well for 90% of the time, then it becomes the dominant design principal and other considerations will be sacrificed in order for it to prevail. To explain this further, the outdoor area works very well for most of the year, however for a few occasions during the year, wind-driven rain and mid-summer sun penetrate the space and make it unusable. On the remaining occasions, in excess of 90% of the time, the space is open airy, light filled and cool. Therefore the achievement of these things became the predominant design philosophy. The 6.6m overhang protects the outdoor living areas as much as possible and became the feature that gave birth to the nickname "The Sail House".

In order to take account of the prevailing breezes and desirable sun angles, the building orientation is critical. The aim is to arrange the rooms, walls, openings and outdoor spaces so as to catch breezes when desired and avoid the tropical heat.


The project included conventional materials available in the Cairns area: concrete, steel, glass, aluminium and to a lesser extent timber. Construction relied on manufacturers best recommendations for environmentally suitable materials at the time.


The home was designed to operate without air-conditioning and in 2008 this was the primary goal, rather than offsetting costs with photovoltaics that were not as well supported from a cost benefit perspective at the time.


The gardens are suited to an inferior soil, imported soil was kept to a minimum and there is no lawn to water.


The design was based around comfort and lifestyle in the tropics. The home always lets you know where you are. Most importantly, the fishing boat is moored at the front. This is why we are here and love this home.


Base building architect/ designer: Mike Ferris
Structural engineer: Kel Bruce
Builder: Finn Master Builders


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