Wonga Version 3.0
4m² Holiday Shack for modern nomads
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.
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 V3 was born.
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.
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.
From December to April the wet season brings massive amounts of rain, unrelenting humidity and oppressive heat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.