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AR122: The Residential issue

September 29, 2011

The forthcoming issue of Architectural Review Australia profiles a series of exceptional new Australian residential projects.

The Australian Dream of a house on a quarter-acre block is one of this nation’s most cherished modern mythologies, originating in the reconstruction following WWI and II and the subsequent baby boom. A quarter acre – 1040 square metres – was seen as enough land to allow returning servicemen self-sufficiency: space for a garden and a growing family. Indeed, many suburbs were planned and developed around this standard unit.

At some point over the last century, however, the fundamental desires underscoring the Dream have changed. While its enduring influence can be witnessed in the profusion of recent television shows dedicated to home building, from The Block to Top Design and The Renovators, these shows also illustrate just how different our ‘Dream’ is to that of our predecessors. The Renovators is modelled after the enormously successful MasterChef, but whereas contestants in the latter were judged on the inherent qualities of their creations – balance of flavours, aesthetics of presentation, skill in preparation – the metric by which The Renovators decides upon a house’s quality is a simple one: how much it can be sold for.

The Australian Dream was always going to be illusory. With Australia’s burgeoning population and increasingly scarce resources, 1040-square-metre properties for every family would be hopelessly unsustainable. Even so, the founding ethos deserves revisiting: that home ownership can provide for independence, self-sufficiency and serve as the framework within which families, and communities, can grow. The notion of ‘home’, however, is now conflated with the notion of ‘property’, and the speculation that entails – for which we have to thank sub-prime mortgages, GFCs and the slew of lightless shoeboxes ‘populating’ places such as Melbourne’s Docklands, of which apparently twenty- three per cent remain vacant, despite Melbourne’s rental stress. In the face of this phenomenon, it is always a joy to discover residential projects that are reflective not of an appreciation for market values, but human ones: buildings designed for living, not selling.

In this issue, we present a series of projects that could be read as a celebration of such values, including Farnan Findlay’s Beach House 2, which channels a retiree couple’s desire for life by the ocean into a project reliant not on seaside cliche?s or watery vistas for effect but the subtle curation of experience. Another example is the Law Street House by Amy Muir and Bruno Mendes, who played the role not only of architects but also clients and builders. Constructed primarily from steel, with the help of Bruno’s father, a steel fabricator, the house is literally a manifestation of their family’s professional expertise and passions.

The projects we feature are not the product of property speculation, but of the personal histories and ambitions of the architects, the builders and, most importantly, the clients who made them happen. While it is not AR‘s place to pass judgment as to their market value, there is no doubt they are infinitely the richer for it.

In this issue
Law Street House, by Muir Mendes
Coleman Residence, by iredale pedersen hook
Beach House 2, by Farnan Findlay
Barwon Heads House, by Inarc Architects
Curlewis House, by NMBW
Clayfield House, by Shaun Lockyer Architects
Kooyong House, by Matt Gibson Architecture + Design

Plus
Interviews with Charles Holland, Lucy McRae and Francois Roche
Jurgen Mayer’s Metropol Parasol in Sevilla
Reviews of Flux 2011, Open Agenda and ARM’s exhibition ‘God Knows’
Features on Officer Woods Architects and Torbreck apartments in Brisbane

AR122: Residential 2011 goes on sale on Thursday 6 October
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