Small but beautiful

Out From the Blue

By Alice Richard
Wednesday, 13 August, 2014

Small but beautiful

When Out From The Blue (OFTB) landscape architects first viewed this site in the Melbourne suburb of Keilor, their first reaction was that all outdoor spaces were unusable. The team overcame considerable obstacles to construct the in-ground spa and large garden area, which includes a front terraced entry, family courtyard, fish pond, cascading water feature and synthetic grass play space.

The huge block slopes 10.1 m from front to back, with a 10 m-wide Melbourne Water service easement between the rear of the property and the road behind it, making access extremely difficult. Although a permit allowing access through the easement was issued, the size of equipment was restricted due to concerns about environmental impact.

These factors led to the decision to pump concrete from the front of the property - some 50 m from the spa site. Walkie-talkies were used for communication between the concrete truck and the contractors forming the spa.

View of the pool terrace and fenced upper section.

The excavation and retaining costs alone were so significant that the owners decided to opt for a spa rather than a swimming pool. At just 3 x 2 metres, the spa could easily have been dwarfed by the size of the yard. To address this, OFTB landscape architects terraced the block, which not only made the site more usable but also ensured that the spa wasn’t lost in the large space.

The terracing resulted in an additional benefit: as the spa terrace sits 1.2 m higher than most of the surrounding spaces, it is compliant despite only having traditional fencing on one side. The effect is such that, from in front of the fencing on the upper gymnasium level, the spa appears to be unfenced.

Detail of the spa surround.

The spa terrace is located on compacted fill, so considerable engineering was required to ensure that both the deck and spa stay put long term. Concrete piers were extended 1.1 m beneath the spa to hit solid ground. Some of the deeper footings for the deck extend to 1.3 m, with the substructure being custom fabricated from steel. The concrete shell of the spa and the steel structure of the deck and awning are tied together to ensure stability.

The timber decking was designed to act as a floating garden. It incorporates a dramatic curved profile, lightbox and automated shade blind. Spotted gum timber was selected for the timber decking, adding a warmth and richness to the space that may otherwise have felt cold. According to OFTB, this design gives a sense of enclosure and intimacy, further ensuring that the spa isn’t dwarfed by its surroundings.

The pond was constructed using a box and pour technique. Since the water is intended to flow over the level change, it is vital that the stairs are perfectly level so that they remain wet when the feature is switched on.

View to the back of the block.

Living Creations Landscapes constructed the cascading water feature, which comprises an upper reflection pond and lower pond connected by 11 stairs. The stairs are divided into two sections and tiled in different materials: porcelain for the wet areas and bluestone for the dry. The water feature connects the upper and lower terraces visually and the stairs provide direct access from the house to the children’s play zone at the bottom of the property.

Both the upper and lower ponds include bluestone steppers that make these bodies of water traversable. The pond interior has been tiled in matte-finish black porcelain that provides a reflection of the water’s surface. At night, underwater lighting specified by Gardens at Night turns the pond into a feature that is best viewed from the top level of the house. Specified by Reece Plumbing, the pond’s state-of-the-art filtration system includes Pentair sand and UV filters to ensure clarity and an Onga pump.

The lower pond with bluestone steppers.

According to Lewis Marash, OFTB landscape architect and designer, the project’s success is due to the master planning that went into developing the spaces before any construction began. The terracing has transformed what was an impenetrable, unusable block into a landscape that can be used for a range of activities.

The project won Best Pool and Landscape Combination at the Swimming Pool and Spa Association (SPASA) Victoria 2013 Awards of Excellence.

Equipment specifications:

  • Pentair Master Temp 400 gas heater
  • Pentair Max E Pro 1 HP pump
  • Spa Electrics jets with a 1.5 HP Gemini 2-switch system for jets and blower
  • Chemigem pH and CHC dosing
  • Spa Electrics flush-mounted lighting 1 x wn850
  • Coulson Tiles 47 mm Charcoal mosaic tile
  • Hayward cartridge filter
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