The House at Lizard Island | Lizard, Australia | 2022
[JDA Co.]

Crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, and the tropical sting of heat and sweat on your skin. It’s Lizard Island. – 240 kilometers north of Cairns on the fringes of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. Home to unparalleled natural beauty and now ‘The House’ – new architecturally designed accommodation deeply inspired by its place. The House, designed by architects JDA Co., is a true passion project of owners Steve and Jane Wilson, borne from years of planning and a desire to create the greatest ‘reef house’ in the world, on a site Steve refers to as the “Bennelong Point of the Great Barrier Reef”.

Steve says the Island holds a special place in his family’s history, as his father developed the original Lodge. “The first time I visited Lizard Island when I was younger is an experience I still rank as the best holiday of my life,” Steve says. I grew up with a love of fishing and snorkeling and it was taken to a new level for me on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s truly a wonderland.”

The geology and marine life of this incredible reef location provided rich inspiration for the design. JDA Co. Director Dr James Davidson says the design is entirely grounded in its connection to the reef and its place, which he became deeply familiar with while camping under the stars onsite. “Every detail in The House ties back to its magical setting,” James says. “The site itself is so incredibly beautiful and The House is there to act as a frame to its surroundings.”

The architectural plan is reminiscent of the stingrays that swim mere meters away. Narrow slit windows to the south and west act as ‘gills’ and are perfectly placed to direct prevailing breezes and allow The House to breathe on hot days.

On the Ground Floor, a Garden Room seamlessly unites the indoors and outdoors through stone flooring. Meanwhile, upstairs, a burnished, polished concrete floor pays homage to the monumental granite shelf beneath The House.  A central, curved stairwell acts as the heart of The House and provides a seamless connection between levels. Gaze skywards as you climb the stairs and you’ll spy an Oculus for tracking the patterns of the sun and the moon. A roof terrace and spa cap off The House and offer 360-degree views of the landscape. Internally, all three bedrooms come complete with ensuites and have been individually designed to frame vistas to nearby and distant places of significance. The top-floor bedroom frames views of Cooks Look, while bedrooms on the ground level look towards Hibiscus and Attenborough Beach respectively.

Rosewood timber and copper materials bring warmth to The House and serve as a canvas for the vibrant colors of the spectacular natural environment. A large curving Emerald Quartzite kitchen bench echoes a conch, with subtle green tones that compliment the hues of the landscape and reef beyond The House. James says the material selection is intentionally restrained. “It’s an incredibly important site and The House allows you to be there in nature, in the elements,” James says. “The exterior finish is deliberately the same as the indoors, so it feels as though the outdoors have come inside.”

The design welcomes the elements in, all the while acting as a sanctuary from the goannas and geckos outdoors – of which there are many. It was aptly named Lizard Island by Captain James Cook when he passed it in 1770, after noting its large population of monitor lizards. The site also has a rich Indigenous history. Dyiigurra (Lizard Island) is the traditional Country of the Dingaal people and is regarded as a sacred space.

The House takes on the persona of a sort of ‘ruin’ in the past, which prompted design details like the use of stone and concrete materials. But the robust, board-formed concrete shell isn’t purely for aesthetics – it’s highly functional. The striking and rugged landscape lends itself to cyclonic winds and harsh weather conditions. As a result, The House is designed and built to shelter and protect when needed. Perforated copper blades lining the exterior are visually beautiful and act as debris shields that can withstand cyclonic winds intrinsic to this reef.

The House’s remote and highly environmentally sensitive location called for serious ingenuity when it came to the build. The architect and builder had to work closely to achieve a balance between touching the earth lightly with minimal disturbance and building a robust place that’s built to last and built for use – sandy feet and all. Steve says he wants to share the beauty of the place with people from across the world. “The House is beautifully designed, but it’s still ruggedly Australian,” Steve says.

“We’re blessed by the greatest natural wonder of the world and I want people to have the opportunity to visit and experience it for themselves.” The House is available for bookings and is the final piece of a master-planned site on Lizard Island, which includes The Cottage nearby. Text description by the architects.

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Photography by: Peter Bennetts 
Area: 260 m²