The Box House and Collopy House were designed by Nicholas Murcutt before the recent formation of Neeson Murcutt Architects, a small practice in Sydney, Australia. Current projects of Neeson Murcutt Architects include modest rural houses, bigger suburban houses and some small urban infrastructure projects. We balance our practice with teaching and other professional activities. 

The projects are driven by the peculiarities of their programs. The holiday houses are liberated from the expectations associated with a primary residence. These projects are able to question the notion of shelter and set out to reconcile the spirit of camping with the comfort of modern living. 

The projects are studies in the relationship between dwelling and site, casting the house as an object in the landscape, or as a device for editing the edges of the site, or accentuating interiority and separation from the outside.

box house |  photographer brett boardman

An environmental awareness informs these projects. They embrace the benign climate that characterises the east coast of Australia where, for much of the year, it is feasible to live partly outdoors. They are houses that can be opened and closed to varying degrees in response to both subtle and seasonal changes in weather.

The palette of materials is limited; economy and clarity are prioritised over material complexity. Materials are chosen for their associative qualities, physical durability and affordability. They are either sourced locally or are recycled. 

Box House
architect – Nicholas Murcutt

The setting is an un-serviced rural site some 500km south of Sydney. The project developed from a single meeting between architect and artist clients, where a mutual endeavour to re-interpret the shack as a filter for the rural experience was established. 

The ensuing shack is a 6m x 6m x 6m timber cube. Both the distance of the site and a very modest budget precluded pre-construction site visits. So, the project was designed without visiting the site; from photographs annotated by the client and a basic site survey. The house was conceived as a prototype. Its cubic form was chosen for its efficiency and its potential as an object.

The house is reminiscent of a rural barn. It is built entirely of local Australian hardwood timbers and glass, combining one of the oldest building materials with an absolutely modern form, the cube. The form was made as sheer as possible externally by integrating the solid timber doors and windows into the timber walls.

The project celebrates the pleasure of camping as an alternate experience to the city. The clients set up an outdoor fireplace and bathtub that enabled them to camp on the site whilst their house was being designed and built. The house has become an addition to this campsite, with these elements remaining in place and in use. In this sense it is a ‘hard tent.’ 

Collopy House
architect – Nicholas Murcutt

The house is located within a strangely isolated yet completely suburban subdivision along the edge of a natural harbour some 200km north of Sydney. The site itself retains remnant littoral forest and is prone to tidal flooding. The clients, both professionals, were seeking a place that, in the future, would provide a playful retirement.

The project amplifies the natural qualities of this usual site whilst creating comfortable living spaces. The house is sited to screen the neighbouring dwellings and ensure the survival of the remnant forest; only two trees were removed. It can be opened and closed to varying degrees to take advantage of the climate. Much of the activity takes place on an external timber platform or jetty. This is the structuring element of the project, extending from the street to the beach and raised above the tidal flood level.

The program of the house is organised into two pavilions positioned either side of the raised platform. The sleeping pavilion looks into the forest with a private outdoor shower occupying the prime position looking to the beach. The living pavilion is located to gain a sweeping view of the bay. It can be completely opened to the platform in good weather. A temporary parasol canvas roof provides shade to this external living space and alters the character of the internal spaces.

The project is evocative of its estuarine environment; a timber jetty, the boat-like construction of the ceilings. The use of timber is integral to the architectural character. All exposed timbers are recycled and were sourced locally.


All photographs are by Brett Boardman Photography. Brett is a young Sydney-based photographer who follows in the tradition of acclaimed Australian photographers such as Max Dupain, completing a degree in Architecture before moving into photography. He brings his own architectural eye and narrative to his image-making and is rewarded with commissions across Australia. 

His website is www.brettboardman.com.

Text and drawings www.neesonmurcutt.com

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