Max Pritchard and the Design of Southern Ocean Lodge

July 11, 2019

In 2002, James and Hayley Baillie made a trip to Kangaroo Island with their young son Finn. They’d been told about a stretch of land along the island’s remote south coast that was for sale which might have been a suitable location to build a luxury wilderness lodge. Capella Lodge on Lord Howe was the first lodge in the couple’s newly formed Baillie Lodges portfolio. They fell in love with the wild beauty of the island, its endless horizons and abundant wildlife. They developed a vision for a new high-end accommodation experience overlooking the vast Southern Ocean at Hanson Bay.

After purchasing the 100-hectares of land, James tracked down Adelaide-based architect Max Pritchard after reading about his work in a design magazine. James and Hayley liked the environmentally considerate nature of his work and were equally interested to discover Max was originally from Kangaroo Island. It seemed to be a perfect fit. Together with Max, they set out to create an iconic nature-based lodge, a luxury base for an experience of the destination.

Max was born and raised on a remote farm on Kangaroo Island, and an early interest in drawing and building farm structures led to a desire to study architecture, despite “scarcely experiencing an architecturally designed building!”. After completing a degree in architecture at Adelaide University, he established his own practice in 1986.

Initial design work for Southern Ocean Lodge commenced in 2003 and according to Max, the concept for Southern Ocean Lodge was organic, “strongly determined by the site’s topography, views and unique native vegetation.” In order to maximise the impact of the incredible site, from the entry experience to the aptly-named Great Room and guest suites, Max, James and Hayley trekked up and down the coast in all conditions “from blistering heat to heavy rain to get an intrinsic feel for the site, its topography, the vegetation and the views”.

The biggest consideration for Max and the design team, including Andrew Gunner and Wendy Pritchard, was the desire to “limit disturbance of land and vegetation, both by design and construction techniques” to allow guests to experience the untouched nature of the beautifully undisturbed environment. Just one of the ways they achieved this was having the suites follow the contours of the land, accessed by a long-enclosed walkway ramp.

Often referred to as “the man of curves”, Max believes in the effect of expanding a space with large design curves. At Southern Ocean Lodge the arc of windows in the Great Room has this effect, with the native scrub to the north merging the spectacular view of the coast and Southern Ocean. Contrasting with this expansiveness is the long curving limestone wall, which “gives the impression that the wall may have been carved into the cliff face”.

In trying to create a certain ambience, Max says “we aimed to achieve a sense of calm with a timeless quality free from fashion trends. That the lodge regularly receives International awards indicated that it hasn’t been overtaken by fashionable new developments”.

The element Max most loves about the design is the entry experience, the 100-metre-long curving stone wall with local limestone and the feel of being immersed in nature. He says guests have told him they are always blown away by the experience, “they feel that they have entered a special, very relaxed world.”

On reflecting on his relationship with his clients, James and Hayley, now dear friends, Max says, “James and Hayley welcome new ideas and so we were able to sit down and throw around concepts” and in that open communication, “I feel we’ve been able to create some memorable and timeless designs, if Southern Ocean Lodge is testament to that.”

Max has gone onto collaborate with James and Hayley on the major refurbishment of Longitude 131° at Uluru-Kata Tjuta, as well as their own home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.