Author Archives: Tim Sullivan

Wonga Beach Shack Photos





Wonga opening up South West

Wonga Fabricated Shack

Wonga Version 3.0

4m² Holiday Shack for modern nomads



Open sesame

Open sesame

Final Picture

Final Picture


A beach front block of land had been in the family for more than 15 years. About 12 years ago Wonga V1 commenced. The footings were poured, but the project halted when I was accepted into architecture school. Once my study was complete I redesigned the project based on the socio-spatial qualities of my tambuwan’s (sister-in-law) PNG village.

Wonga Property panorama

Wonga Property panorama before construction

We would be staying together as our own ‘village’ with our combined load of five kids, so organising the buildings around a village social hierarchy made a lot of sense. We could offset the cost by renting it out as a short term holiday rental, or worst case sell the property.

Unfortunately the rising Australian dollar killed the local tourist industry and thus the rental market and thus the property value.

We still loved the beach so we decided to change the scale of the project to minimise the investment risk, by building something that suited the way we planned to use it. No need for something big or anything flash. The trip up from melbourne is far, 3000km, so it’s not a weekender, We would be modern nomads. We needed a nomadic home.

Wonga beach from water

Wonga beach from water

Wonga V3 was born.

Design Issues

Deadly Jelly fish and Crocodiles.

From October to May dangerous jellyfish inhabit the waters at the beach and all year around crocodiles inhabit the estuaries.

Box Jellyfish

Box Jellyfish


The Cylconic winds tear buildings apart. To compensate, the structural requirements greatly exceed those in Melbourne. This means massive footings, lots of steel, or huge chunks of wood.

Wet Season

From December to April the wet season brings massive amounts of rain, unrelenting humidity and oppressive heat.

Cairns temperature

Cairns temperature

Cairns Rainfall

Cairns Rainfall


The 3000km trip from Melbourne to Wonga is a big one, not something you’d do just for a weekend. So the shack has to work for a few weeks at a time. It has to be self reliant in that we don’t need to bring large suitcases with us.

Economic Risk

Due to the areas exposure to the economy at large and especially the tourist economy, the value of the underlying asset (the land) can fluctuate dramatically. This should be considered over the longer term to prevent overcapitalising.


By overlapping the design issues into a diagram, you can see that the optimal time to visit is between April and September.



At this time the cyclone risk is minimal, so there is no need to construct anything but the minimum as cyclone rated. Light weight, portable structures can be utilised for living spaces instead of concrete blocks and deep footings supporting structural steel that would lay vacant during cyclones season.

Glamping was perhaps an answer, so I researched some high-end tents similar to ones we stayed in on a trip to Devi Garh in India.

Devi Garh

Some Rajasthan Pavilion tents at Devi Garh Palace

The tents would be semi-permanent, to be set up on platforms, carpeted with kilims and sisal.

Glamping solved one issue, but created another, it’s actually illegal to camp on a vacant block of land, even if you own it.  But… it’s not  illegal to camp on a block with a dwelling on it.

There needed to be a permeant ‘dwelling’ built on the site that had a toilet, laundry, shower, kitchen and bedroom. There is no minimum size limit so I could make it as small as possible.

There were footings already poured on site from Wonga V1.  These were on a 4x4m grid.  Thankfully I was able to reuse these footings for the building.  It gave me a building size of 4m².

This was enough to fit in a kitchen, bathroom/laundry, bedroom, but not really the circulation spaces around them…  Also I wanted the kitchen to open out to the living space… which was the outdoors.

The design called for some form of dynamic architecture that allowed the building to fold/open up.



The roof flaps

There are three roof panels that fold up.  They have a hinged bracket so they can be easily lifted. the hinge rotates as the flap becomes horizontal. The flaps are then tied down with guy ropes.

Floor Flaps

The floor flaps have a counterweight pulley system so they easily fold downwards.  The have fold out legs to support their weight.

Fold Out Walls

Three full height 1.2m wide walls fold out between he roof and floor flaps  to provide more space as well as privacy in the bathroom.


Instead of traditional doors two large doors, one 1.8 m wide, swing open using gate hinges.  The doors stay open when the shack is being used.

1Stages Scheme



Phase 1. Design and technology.

The design process required a high level of accuracy but at the same time flexibility. I had some fixed dimensions that came from the existing footings I was reusing, but everything else was uncertain.

To streamline construction I chose to base most of the parameters on the sizes of materials.  Unfortunately materials’ tolerances are wide and variation between even the same materials can sometimes be quite extreme.  I was also unsure of the the most appropriate materials for the project, but I wanted to start the design without being forced into choosing materials until I was ready.  To counter this I created a detailed parametric construction grid that was able to cope with any of these and other changes.  I drew out traditional plans for consultants in AutoCAD, but if anything that changed with materials or spatial dimensions,  I could overlay the new parametric plan on top and use it as a grid template so any changes matched the new conditions.

A good example of this was the wall linings, I was originally going to use metal sheeting as an external lining and 10mm fibre cement (FC) sheet as internal, but due to the cyclonic bracing requirements I found out later I needed FC on both sides, so I changed the wall linings to 6mm external and internally.  that’s not so much a big deal on one wall… 8mm,  but over the length of the building it meant a total discrepancy of 60mm. That’s a big gap! I was also able to optimise some of the widths of the walls so that I could use whole sheets of FC without cutting.

Having this parametric grid also  allowed me to write an algorithm that automated the stud locations to meet the FC panel, so the stud spacings were optimised between structural and panelisation requirements.  Once this information was automatically calculated I was able to export some cutting lists and set-out measurements that were exact.  For most of the construction I used this documentation rather than the traditional plans. They were much more useful and intuitive than traditional construction drawings.

Phase 2 – Pre-Manufacture

A good friend Mike Sharp connected me with David Poulton another designer/architect who liked to make stuff too (although he is much better at that than me!). He had a great workshop in Footscray that had almost enough room to build the whole shack in one piece.

1Axonometric Exploted


Over a few months I would try to spend three days a week out at the workshop building shack.

Each part of the building was treated as an individual component. It was assembled and then connected to the rest of the shack. The parts made the whole. Once all the components had prepared and the shack was mostly assembled in the workshop, it was then separated again, and everything was loaded into a 20’ HC container.

container loaded in Footscray

container loaded in Footscray

Container at Wonga

Container at Wonga

The container was put on a train up to Cairns and delivered to the site a few days before David and I were booked to arrive.

1Transportation Process


Phase 3 – Onsite assembly.

The construction was a reasonably straight forward process of unloading the container and reassembling the components.

It took a total of 7 days with a crew of 1-3 extra guys helping out.

Unfortunately I ran out of time to get some nice shots of the building complete, the final touches went on a few minutes after sundown on Wednesday.  But stay tuned as the next time I go up, i’ll get hundreds!

Day 1 Monday – Sub Structure

End of Day One

End of Day One

We arrived on site on monday early afternoon directly from Cairns airport and got straight into it. We marked out the building footprint and Rick Quaid from Wonga Welding chemset the steel posts into the footings. We unloaded the roof trusses and made sure they were in the right position for day three. We attached the bearers and got the joists ready to go. We finished at dark and were exhausted by the end of the day.

Day 2 Tuesday – Walls

End of day two

End of day two

The labourers I’d lined up fell through so rang around desperate to find some more guys. Some local boys Ryan, David and Josh saved the day. But I couldn’t get the extra hands I needed until the afternoon. In the morning we finished off the floor so we would be ready for the walls to come out and be put straight into their final positions.

After melting on Day one David and I vowed to break up the day. At 11am the sun cleared the coconut palms so was focused on us and unbearably hot. We couldn’t swim at the amazing beach that was 30m away due to the jellyfish, the beach and salvation was taunting us through the palms. Ryan told us of a few local waterholes, that were croc and jellyfish free. Supposedly the water is too cold for the crocs, so at least we could cool down a little.

We went into town got some pita wraps and headed to the mossman gorge for a swim.

Amazing! The photos Speak for themselves

After our swim we started again at 3pm, when the sun was falling behind the cashew tree out the front. While it was still hot, skipping that unbearable few hours in the middle of the day made a huge difference. He were able to jump into action straight away and had a productive day. We got most of the walls up, braced and fixed.

Cashew fruit

Cashew fruit

We cranked up the bbq and had the first Wonga meal. T-bone with cardboard as a plate and a machete as a knife.


Day 3 Wednesday- Roof Structure, doors, kitchen

End of day three

End of day three

Wednesday  was the most productive day; we got the ring beam fixed, the kitchen in place, doors attached, and the massive heavy trusses onto the ringbeam, ready for erection the next day.

We went for another swim in a different waterhole, just out of Mossman. Again… beautiful

Day 4 Thursday- Inspections, finish roof, tie rods, Services, floor flaps, roof flap, tents up

End of Day four

End of Day four

Great day today. 12 people on site. The septic was installed and the plumbing and electrical roughed in. The roof structure was completed. I got a roof flap and both the floor flaps installed. The Engineer and Building Surveyor came out for their respective framing inspections. All went to plan, the Engineer, Adrien Crowe from Cardno was able to resolve a couple of tricky tie-down details that had appeared.

We also got one of the tents up.

Inside one of the tents

Inside one of the tents internal lining

Rajasthani Tent

Rajasthani Tent

Day 5 Friday – sheeting, tie rods, tree lopping

Big mistake today, we had a couple of early setbacks and stupidly tried to work through the heat. No waterhole, just tie-rod frustration By the end of the day we got a lot done, but David and I were grumpy, exhausted.

I had to get a few limbs removed from a beautiful melaluca that the power company wanted trimmed. Jim Scott did a great job, although it’s always a shame to have to trim or remove a tree.


Tree surgeon

Tree surgeon Jim Scott

One highlight was we managed to get a ‘melbourne’ coffee brewed on my massive overpowered wok burner.



Day 6 Saturday – more sheeting tie rods, tent down, sarking, temporary roof sheeting

Early bird, a glorious sunrise.

Sunrise rocky point

Sunrise rocky point

A day of messing around. Rain was predicted, both by appearance of swarms of tiny bugs and the BOM. We raced to make the building water tight. unfortunately the roof sheeting was stuck in Cairns with a broken truck. We had to rely on roof parking and some spare sheets of polycarbonate. Just as we finished the macro storm came and went. At one point we were standing as three separate storms raged in the distance around us Thunder sticking in every direction and some amazing clouds in the distance lighting up like lampshades every few seconds with strikes of lightening.

Down comes the rain

During dinner the heavens really opened 60mm in two hours! The rain had an amazing psychological effect on the locals, People whooped and cheered and a few started dancing. When we got back to our accommodation, the Mossman exchange pub, the bar was electric. It was going to be a big night. Unfortunately we were too exhausted to join in, and unfortunately the party went so late and was so loud, David or I hardly slept.


Satellite image of storm

Satellite image of storm

Day 7 Sunday Final Day, roof flaps, sheeting, silicone, tie rods, security, tent down, pack up.


We woke early, i was thinking of banging around the managers quarters as revenge, but the manager was a huge PNG rugby player who would have squashed me in a second.
Final day, I was started to manage my own expectations on how complete the building would be and wrote out some urgent tasks that had to be completed before sunset.

We were also worried the temporary roof had collapsed under the deluge from the night before and we would spend the morning bring the site back into order.

Fortunately all went well, the shack was water tight despite the downpour.
Even though it was the last day… it was still unbearably hot so we made sure we took a few hours off to cool down. We retraced our path to the Day 3 water hole, probably our favourite to see the affect of all the rain on the quiet little creek. The water was raging, but full of families and a couple of dogs struggling against the current. There was a sunken tree you could hang onto, the current stretching you out like a pin.

The water was brown rather than clear, but the swim was as invigorating and sublime as all the others.

waterhole over the river

waterhole over the river

After lunch we got back into it and we were able to finish off everything just in time,  I fixed the last screw for the pad bolt latch at 7pm.  There was only some very minor works incomplete, yet overall a lot ore got done than i had hoped were possible.


Final Picture

Final Picture 5am before flight home

Opening up East

Wonga shack opening process

Animated GIFs

A selection of Animated GIF’s that show how the shack opens up and then shuts down.

Opening up North East

Opening up North East

Opening up East

Opening up East

Animated opening from North

Animated opening from North

Animated opening from South East

Animated opening from South East




 Timelapse of opening up the house.


Here Ryan, DJ and I opened up the shack, it took less than 6 minutes.

Tent inside looking out

Rajasthani Tents at Wonga

Here are the tents that we use at Wonga. There are three sleeping tents one pagoda tent and a beach tent for the girls.


The ‘swiss’ sleeping tents are huge, about twice as big as the whole house. They have a large central space that can be divided by a curtain down the centre. There is also a small room at the rear, about 4m x 1.5m which can be used as WIR or if installed an ensuite. There is also a covered verandah area at the front.


The tents are made with treated white canvas, they have an internal dyed cotton lining, inside the main room the walls and ceiling also has a pattern is printed, embedded with embroidered mirrors


The Pagoda tent is about 3m square it has light cotton panels and tassels and an embroidered inner lining. It’ll be used for shading a yoga space or a outside dining table.


The beach tent is for the girls, its small and easy to assemble. It’s made of two pieces the roof and the walls. It’s not supposed to be weather proof but it was still dry inside after some pretty heavy downpours and and some strong winds.

Loop Presentation



Tim is presenting the Wonga Beach Shack at Process tonight (2/2/15)


come down to Loop in meyers place if you get the chance!











Modelo Model

Here is a parametric structural model I made in grasshopper. I wanted to show an iteration of it my engineer to check we were on the same page. Instead of sending him a dwg, i thought i’d test drive some new tech.

A good friend of mine, Su Qi, who I met as a classmate at Harvard, has been working away at a startup called modelo. It’s an amazing online collaboration tool that allows you to comment and navigate a 3d model in real time simultaneously, with others anywhere around the world. You can see as others navigate and comment as they are typing… it’s instantaneous!!!

The interface is better than Apple simple, and works better than an 8.01 update(sorry apple geek joke). The start up is called Modelo. You should check it out, it’s amazing. It even works on your iPhone!

An awesome additional feature is its ability to embed the model online, like you should be able to see below… if you can’t see it get off IE!!

If anyone would like to try it out, i’ve opened up the model for comments… Leave a comment!


Planter Box Complete

Parametric Planter Box

I’ve been thinking about furniture that would benefit from being parametrised. A lot of my ideas just come from looking around my house and office.

Being an inner city apartment dweller, any balcony space however small begs the opportunity to become a miniature green space.

Unfortunately balconies or even small backyard spaces are always cramped and irregular.

By designing a parametric Planter box,

I can make planter boxes to any size!

They can be any width height and length (as long as they fit on a ply sheet). and when they start getting long, you can insert brackets to keep the sides from bulging out.

What was great was just before i was going start the cut on the CNC mill i slightly adjusted the model, once to add a little more tolerance, as the ply sheets aren’t consistently the same thickness. I also noticed tha if i changed the height from 450mm to 360mm i could fit it all on a smaller offcut sheet. This saved money and didn’t greatly affect the planter. Making changes like this aren’t normally possible, as the drawings would need to be redone to consider these adjustments. With the parametric model it was instantly amended.

Here is a video of the CNC routercutout the profile. The file is sent directly from the software and the CNC router follows the paths set by the file.

Here it is complete. I painted the exposed edges with a black waterproofing compound. I’m not sure it’s needed, but it thought i should try it out. The Plywood uses waterproof glue so should be able to handle the moisture without it. Next prototype i’ll try without it.

Sullivan And Charles Moves

We Have almost finished moving into our new office in the Schoolhouse Studios.

The Office has great light and heaps of character (read it’s a bit rough at the edges).

But it will be great to back in and a part of a community of diverse and amazing artists.

I got out my painting gear to finish one off the walls. It was great, I forgot how meditative painting can be (although cutting in always sucks!).  Will I painted I listened to some online Yale lectures called “the foundations of Modern Social Theory by Prof. Ivan Szelenyi. The professor is hilarious and makes the lectures engaging and fun.

Here’s some pictures.  There is only my desk in. I hoping no-one else moves in so i can have the space t myself!

81 Rupert St

81 Rupert St

Here it is:
Schoolhouse Studios
81 Rupert St
Collingwood VIC 3066

Parametric Nomadic Furniture

This suite of Furniture was inspired by Wonga 2.0 and it’s need for simple, cheap furniture that could be transported easily (flat packed) and then assembled and disassembled intuitively (knockdown).

To meet these requirements I created five parametric models of furniture.

Clothes Hanger
Shelving Unit

(Addendum: I;ve since finished construction of a stair bookcase and a planter box)



These pieces of furniture could be laser, plasma or CNC Router cut out of standard plywood sheets. I wanted to be able to “print” different versions of furniture at different sizes and with different materials.

To make the furniture knockdown, it needed some Japanese key joins, this required a level of accuracy that meant that each piece of furniture would need to match exactly to it’s piece of ply. Plywood, is rarely exactly the thickness it is specified I have had 4mm pieces that were 3.1mm and 4.8mm. When making friction joined furniture this discrepancy multiplies and usually means the furniture won’t assemble correctly, if at all. So being able to adjust the thickness of the material easily without having to re-draw and re-calculate the whole design was essential. To see some more examples of joins i have made click here.

The potential of this design system, is the possibility to create bespoke furniture quickly and cheaply. For example if you look at the table, a parametric table dimensions could defined by an exact empty space in someones home or office. 1210x654mm, no problem! Say the user is tall and is sick of low tables, or a user wants to use the table standing up… no problem! If the user wants a temporary table and want to use cheap low grade non- structural ply, or a more permanent (and expensive) custom made Italian laminate or cherry wood veneer.. no problem either. These and many other variations can be added to the model which automatically updates the cutting files ready for fabrication. No additional input by the designer is required.

Prototypes and scale?

The flexibility of the parametric design system is exhibited in the first prototypes I created. These were laser cut out of 3.6mm plywood. I needed to test the accuracy of the parameteric relationships within the models so I took the design to an extreme, I made them really, really small. It is important to note that these aren’t scaled down versions of a large table they are the actual table just with small dimensions inputs as parameters. So for example instead of inputting the standard-ish table dimensions of 900mm x 1800mm i inputed 80mm x 150mm. Instead of 20mm ply I used was 3.6mm.

The prototypes were a success. The next stage of this research is to further aesthetically develop the models and then ‘Print’ fullsize versions using the CNC router and some sheets of 1200 x 2400 plywood.

Node Joint Upside down

Laser Cut Japanese Mortice and Tenon Joints


Curved Joint with Key

Parametric Structure using snap in Japanese mortice and tenon joints


The parts


Video of me assembling structure.


Five way Japanese joint




Complicated nodal joint

Flat Keyed Extension with key