Architecture

Blurred House

November 6, 2012

With the small-scale Blurred House, Bild Architecture gets down & dirty with a contemporary suburban extension. Small it may be, but it isn’t short on aesthetic and material drama.

This article first appeared in Architectural Review Asia Pacific issue 127: The Residential Issue.

Compared to a giant project in the Middle East, a little extension to a house in suburban Northcote doesn’t qualify as ‘master planning’. But architect Ben Milbourne thinks that the skills are transferrable and judging by the Blurred House, Bild Architecture’s first completed project, you’d have to say he’s right. Before starting Bild with co-directors Campbell Drake and Ross Langdon in late 2008, Milbourne’s professional experience comprised stints with OMA and LAB Architecture Studio, working on the master planning of huge urban precincts. Not houses. He says he started Bild Architecture to get ‘hands on’ and, well … build.

‘Blurred House’ refers to the project’s transition between the traditional 1930s Californian bungalow at the front and a contemporary extension at the rear. “The clients really loved the front of the house and the historical, traditional craftsmanship and detailing,” says Milbourne. “They wanted to maintain those qualities but have contemporary spaces at the rear of the house. The idea was to make that transition in a way that wasn’t contrasting. We wanted to do something that blended the old house and the new house in a smooth transition.” From the front the only hint of change is a narrow slit window above the existing roofline. The new work is a mutation of the Californian bungalow’s own form and material. Metal roof cladding extends down to become wall cladding and the pitching of the roof is exploited for its sculptural and volumetric potential – angular geometry and drama is coaxed out of a traditional typology.

From the street the extension is betrayed only by a narrow, high slit.

 

Architectural theorist Mark Wigley, writing about deconstructivist architecture in 1988, said “distortion is peculiarly disquieting because it seems to belong to the form, to be part of it. It seems to have always been latent there until released by the architect: the alien emerging out of the stairs, the walls, and the roof plane … the form is distorting itself.” I am not suggesting that Bild’s project is deconstructivist. It isn’t; blurring implies smoothness, not the harsh collisions of deconstructivism. But there is something there.

Perhaps it’s more apt to quote Greg Lynn in Architectural Curvilinearity (1993): “presently, an alternative smoothness is being formulated that may escape these dialectically opposed strategies. Common to the diverse sources of this post-contradictory work … are characteristics of smooth transformation involving the intensive integration of differences within a continuous yet heterogeneous system.” The curved bathroom wall is one such ‘different’ element implanted into the Californian bungalow context, but it is not a disjuncture. It is integrated via its materiality – traditional white mosaic tiles with dark contrasting borders. “With the interior finishes we were using the same ideas, taking some of the period detailing but doing that in a very contemporary way,” says Milbourne.

Wide bifolds and extensive glazing enhance the connection between indoor and outdoor living.

 

If I hadn’t been told it was called the Blurred House I might have named it the TARDIS House, in reference to a container that seems impossibly large on the inside. Bild have transformed and added a second storey but stayed within the existing ground floor footprint. With masterful internal surgery, the result is a ground level with a better connection to the outside, the same number of bedrooms except they’re larger and have more storage, a more spacious main bathroom, and enough space for the new stairwell. The upper level is designed to be an autonomous wing for the clients’ son when he grows to teenagehood, with its own bedroom, bathroom and mezzanine lounge with cantilevered balcony.

The house had been renovated some 15 years earlier but the planning was awkward. According to Milbourne, “The clients found themselves using the front rooms.” It already had double doors opening on to the pool deck from an open kitchen/dining/lounge, and the new plan keeps this relationship, although wider bifolds now improve the connection. More importantly a new pathway to the side door was created, leading to a laundry/bathroom space rather than directly to the living area. For Milbourne, “it’s the best pool in the area. In summer it’s packed with neighbourhood kids.” Wet children can now change in the laundry, take a shower and dry off before entering the house.

The upper level, an autonomous wing, features its own mezzanine lounge.

 

Where once the circulation path from the front entry meandered around to the back, Bild have removed the obstacle of a window- less central bathroom and rationalised the corridor into a gun barrel. An open-tread stair allows views of the backyard from the front door. “Storage was a big priority,” says Milbourne. By turning the middle bedroom of a row of three into a shared en suite, it increased the size of the other two bedrooms by removing the need for wardrobes. Instead they are built into the en suite space, with a single internal partition curving through the middle of the en suite to loosely demarcate three zones. What’s it like having a shower in a big room rather than a little glass box? “It’s amazing. Absolutely brilliant. I really liked it,” reports Milbourne, who got to live in the house for two weeks while the clients were away.

The loft area.

 

There was no heritage restriction insisting the front of the house be kept unsullied, and the Blurred House is perhaps proof that architects don’t need the planning code to protect neighbourhood character. They do, however, need great clients. “It’s incredibly rewarding doing small projects,” says Milbourne. “With the bigger projects you’re very divorced from the end user.”

And how do the clients feel about the master planner’s first small commission? “They seem really happy with the way this one’s turned out. Which is always nice.”

www.bild.com.au

ADR features Bild’s Blurred House in “Changes on the home front: Australia’s evolving front yard,” have a read here.

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