Injidup Residence

November 18, 2010

Wright Feldhusen Architects’ restrained response to the conditions of a remote coastal site draws spare beauty from pragmatic considerations.

I like intelligently designed buildings that respond to a site in an easy, ineffable way. Buildings that are legible and defined, but also natural, in the sense of belonging to a place. The architectural demands of a particular situation can vary enormously. In the city or town, the proximities of an urban context, a precinct or a campus draw in a raft of controls and oversight. A large undisturbed bush or coastal setting for a residential project is a release from these restrictions. Nevertheless, a wonderful site like that presented to Wright Feldhusen Architects at Injidup in the heartland of the Margaret River recreation and wine region, overlooking a magical, undisturbed beach, carries its own burden of expectation, and even responsibility.

In the city much is given or foretold. In the rural or coastal landscape equally much has to be found through the exploration of the imagination. There is an expectation that the uniqueness of a circumstance be recognised, that a formulaic or translated solution be avoided.

Injidup is a place scoured by the westerlies of the Indian Ocean. Its beach is hammered into shape by strong lines of sea swell. The turbulent water strips away the white limestone upper strata of this stretch of coast, leaving the underlying dark grey and red granite ribs as a sequence of headlands, with white sandy intervals. The site location is behind one of these gaps, on a gentle rise in the resultant dune system. A tight garment of closely woven coastal tree and brush heath is pressed down over the area by a constant salt laden air that races overhead, escaping to the warmer, bucolic hinterland behind. It is a lonely, neglected place in many ways – one without utility, unless you are seeking retreat and exposure to the more elemental aspects of nature. A location that has been, until very recently, undeveloped.

The site is one of a small number of large lots, arrayed parallel to the beach. Its northern neighbour is the Injidup Spa Retreat, which is described by a leading food and travel magazine as one of the “top 30 new hotels in the world”. This conveys something of the exclusiveness of the locale. It also reflects an aspect of the house designed by Tim Wright, which is a private residence, but with an arrangement of accommodation that is suggestive of the architecture of a small resort (in the best sense of that word).

The building consists of four elements – two long, bar-shaped cellular accumulations of bed and bath rooms, separated and laterally displaced around a central communal space, anchored at the rear by a large garage and service compound. These private rooms reflect an egalitarian quality in their serial and lineal organisation, which is expressed as two simple, parapeted rectangular forms. The communal living space is organised differently, an assembly of curved roof, glass and structure, as open and connected and exploratory as the individual rooms are hermetic and closeted.

The dichotomy of expression of the communal and private spaces in the house is not arbitrary, but subservient to the demands of the site. The long rectangular elements are heavy and secure, providing a peaceful and quiet retreat from the roar of the beach and the buffeting of the wind. They are parked along the contours of the topography, confronting the ocean and the prevailing westerly weather with a barricade of rammed earth walling, protecting the courtyard, outdoor living and pool, and service spaces behind. The displacement of these ‘bar’ forms, with the form to the north moved across somewhat towards the water, reflects the offset of the prevailing winds to the south of due west. This gap in the masonry blocks permits the space of the primary north facing courtyard living area to bleed out to the south, to address the important headland vista of Injidup Point.

The diffusion of the courtyard space is achieved by frameless glazing that encloses but reveals the kitchen, dining and sitting area at the focus of the house. This glass membrane is suspended from a ring beam that is itself hung from laminated jarrah roof members, which in turn are propped by a jaunty arrangement of offset structural steel pipe section posts. With a plain white ceiling and soffit lining, this arrangement creates an agreeable tent-like place of communality. On the ocean side, the out-of-plumb posts feel like they are very distinctly leaning into the wind, bending the laminated timber members and pulling down the leading edge of the roof in a protective fashion. Externally, this action is expressed as a curved roof form that is imitative of the coastal landform and heath in which the building is located.

The delicate nature of this vegetation and environment, and the desire of the community to maintain its essential character, has imposed some restrictions on development, in particular a four-metre building height limit. Consequently, the house has been kept to a single, predominantly parapeted and flat-roofed ground level. This is sited on a grassed terrace that is retained by a low perimeter limestone wall, which separates it from the surrounding terrain. The only recognition of the vertical possibilities of the site is a roof observation deck, accessed from the main courtyard and tucked within the height constraints. Its importance is emphasised by its detailing – a circular handrail of dressed teak, mounted on tectonic uprights composed from copper bar, restrains a toughened glass frameless balustrade and traces the outline of a travertine marble platform, access and ascending tread work.

This description of expensive detailing to what is an important, but nevertheless incidental element of the house, should not convey the impression that the project is one where the client has been indifferent to cost. While a substantial budget has been provided, the architects have worked with restraint. The private rooms are well detailed and specified, but, with their characteristically Margaret River rammed earth walls and clear finished timber joinery and cabinets, achieve a slightly monastic and spare, even utilitarian quality. There is no slipping into a blithe hedonism. The curved roof form over the central communal living area is expressive, but limited in scope. It is not permitted to dominate the composition and become a parody of a ‘response to site’ or an over-played ‘organic’ shaping of building to landform.

The form of the curved roof and its proximity to the ocean suggest it was initially considered in copper. However, it has been carefully and successfully built from standard profile, dark pre-finished steel sheeting, characteristic of the high quality of workmanship achieved by the contractor right through the project. There is a degree of tension in this slight gap between where the possibilities and even intentions of the design could have led in terms of material representation, and where the architects have necessarily had to expend their client’s resources and stretch the detailing of some aspects in standard rather than ‘artisan’ building products.

This is not apparent in the primary rooms of the house, which are superbly done, or indeed in the material treatments in immediate proximity to the exterior of the important areas – for example, the fascias and rainwater goods on the face of the parapeted walls are all in copper. However, from the observation deck the secondary elements, like the flat roofs undertaken in the second tier of material become important, and this jars a little with the magnificence of the outlook. Not that the roofscape should, for instance, have necessarily been undertaken in copper instead of steel – rather one wonders about the possibilities of say, earthed and turfed roofs to the parapeted elements, which would further ground those parts of the building that are already consciously ‘heavy’ and ‘bedded’ in their treatment. Similarly, service elements like hot water and air conditioning compressor units on roofs and walls, though typically out of eyesight from the primary spaces, are apparent in a full perambulation of the building and are a distraction in the context of such a pristine location.

However, this is to quibble, and is to do so about details that are neither intentional nor fundamental to the design and as such should not detract from a holistic reading of the building. What I like about this house is the intelligence of its site consideration and planning, which emerges as a simple and concise organisation that resonates with the needs of habitation. Another strength is its recognition of locale, which informs me that it is both a Margaret River building and peculiar to its site. This is achieved with an appropriate and almost patrician restraint. It is also recognisably a building from a practice that continues to elaborate on particular themes, forms and tectonic preoccupations, while progressively extending the range of their explorations with each project. At Injidup, Wright Feldhusen have been true to themselves and the site.

  • David January 28th, 2015 8:41 pm

    Phenomenal is all I’ve got.

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