The House You Learnt Your First Lessons In

Words by Anthony Richardson

You never forget your first, whether it’s a kitchen renovation for your mum’s neighbour or a new house. What’s more unforgettable isn’t necessarily the design, but the process and the lessons you learnt, and Ray Dinh Architecture recognised this with First Lessons House.


Many young architects get their first project because of family, which makes sense as they seem to always gush about your accomplishments to friends. Ray Dinh Architecture describes the clients as being “open to take a risk on a young architect who hadn’t built a house yet.” which is the type of client you want/need for your first project. With your first project, you learn so many lessons for the first time, which was the inspiration behind the name of the project.

Speaking of firsts, I don’t think you could get a better first site, located down in Portsea, it’s filled with myrtle and tea-trees. The site overlooks the Portsea Lagoon and Wildlife Reserve and provides a picturesque setting for the clients to have BBQs on a cool night next to a fire whilst listening to the sounds of nature. The client’s wanted “a house that allows for as much outdoor space as possible, and opens up to the garden”, and wanted to maintain the native bushland landscape.

Before the footings were poured, Ray Dinh was overcoming one of the biggest challenges of the project, gaining trust. In his own words, he was an “unproven young architect” but during the design and documentation of the house the confidence of the client’s grew. What helped with this were informal meetings, which consisted of conversations and sketches over dinner, and his communication skills. As he gained confidence from the clients, he was able to transfer those lessons to build a trusting relationship with the builder.

Another lesson that Ray Dinh learnt was the importance of just getting the basics right, “I believe the success of the project stems from the first steps - siting, orientation and connection to the garden.” This is why he designed an L-shape house and sited in such a way to take advantage of the northern sun, trees, contours, winds and views. Materials such as charred blackbutt, concrete and corrugated iron were chosen for their robustness, cost-effectiveness and textures.

As with many, probably every, first projects, you don’t have a never-ending budget. Ray would be smart with the budget and decided to focus the costs on spaces and details of the northern elevation. With that, bedrooms are kept quite basic with carpet flooring and plasterboard walls and ceilings, and ancillary spaces were designed to be more economical. The budget was focused on the communal spaces, such as large sliding doors which disappear behind the wall which not only allows the home to breathe but creates a seamless indoor-outdoor. In fact, Ray reflected on these sliding doors and the amount of coordination and detailed required to make such a “simple” move happen. “It was clear that the owners didn’t quite understand the detailed drawings, so watching them realise how well the building met their brief was very rewarding.”

The client’s wanted a house that would be a place for celebrations and events, and with that comes a need for a great outdoor space. The timber decking extends the indoor living space, and the in-situ concrete fireplace becomes the main focal point. Taken what he has learnt over the years of working with Austin Maynard Architects, Ray Dinh has designed a home which is very personalised to the clients. With this project being his first, Ray looks back on the lessons he learnt throughout, not only professionally but also personally. An important personal lesson he learnt was to be humble. “When I didn’t know something, I was very thorough in my search for an answer, and was happy to take on board advice from suppliers, consultants and all trades on site.” But of course he didn’t learn every lesson from this project, Ray knows that every project has something new to learn, new challenges to overcome, and new lessons to be learnt.

First Lessons House is a finalist in the ArchiTeam 2018 Awards for Residential New. The winners will be announced on Wednesday 14 November 2018 at 5 Easey Upstairs, 5 Easey Street, Collingwood. See ArchiTeam for more information.

The clients envisioned the house becoming a central meeting point to be shared and borrowed by family and friends. A place for retreat, for BBQs and celebrations of all sorts.
— Ray Dinh

Site Plan



Project Name _ First Lessons House
Architect _
Ray Dinh Architecture | | @raydinharch
Location _
Project Completed _ 2017
Photographer _
Peter Bennetts | | @peterbbennetts
Landscape Designer _ Fiona Brockhoff Design |
Engineer _ Perrett Simpson Stantin |

Published with BowerBird

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