A common interest among the family members was a desire to live in close proximity to nature, which also represented the principal conflict between the brief and the existing house. Not only was the existing house elevated high above the ground, but also the garden was almost devoid of vegetation, defined by an infinite lawn a classic postwar garden type.
With a north-facing site and river glimpses, there was an expectation that the interventions would exploit the view by placing all of the living rooms in an extension at the same level as the existing elevated floor level, with an orientation to the north-facing backyard. We knew that this default plan move would not satisfy the client’s brief. Instead, we had a sense that the family needed to be able to get their feet on the ground, literally.
In what we refer to as a ‘genuine act of architecture’, brick walls were arranged on the site to create two walled gardens – the creation of measurable space on the site, where no space previously existed. The walled gardens idealise the presence of nature by enclosing the ground, the sky and the sun. These courtyards are furnished with a grass floor and a brick floor (bricks symbolising earth). Further elements were also used to embellish an idea of nature, a fireplace and a moon gate (circular aperture).
The masonry walls do five critical things: arrange indoor and outdoor space, idealise the setting by editing views of undesirable elements within the setting, assist with benching the terrain (the masonry walls act as retaining walls), allow us to manipulate orientation of views and the occupant (to assist with manipulating a perception of scale of the project) and allow us to yield two principal landscape realms – one a manicured, occupiable garden, the other a wilderness (both abstracts of nature). This requires us to reimagine the location of the legal title boundary of the site, so that we are left with a realm within and a realm beyond.
Again this is an attempt to idealise the setting, or idealise the presence of nature in the setting, by imagining that the site sits on the edge of a forest or some other kind of wilderness.
In response to the view and the deterioration of the setting due to the close proximity of neighbouring houses, we also established the idea of a day room (a family room on the ground for engaging the garden by day) and a night room (a family room on the first floor for engaging the long distant view by late afternoon/evening). These rooms of course serve other practical functions in the brief and these events are also best aligned with day or night accordingly.
Although we generally avoid formally occupying the space under a Queensland house, in this instance the steep topography made it attractive. The ground floor of the new extension attempts to capture this spirit of being under the house – exposed and decorative structure, unexpected light, a legibility of the natural topography, an evocation of the dirt under the house by dragging the brick floor of the courtyard through the interior day room.
The internal and external material palette belongs to both the overt local timber 0 2 5m building tradition and also the lesser-known brick tradition of Brisbane. Masonry was often used as a way of separating the delicate timber from the ground.
Externally, painted weatherboards reveal our sustained interest in making beautiful things with ordinary materials. Internally, the wide ‘gappy’ boards reveal
a search for an appropriate sensibility and aesthetic, based on a knowledge of the nature of timber construction and the impact of highly reactive clay soils that most of Brisbane is built on. Gaps will open up between traditional VJ boards, then close again depending on hydration, humidity and the season.
The form of the large ‘flared skirt’ is taken from the decorative forms found on many bay windows in the front elevations of Brisbane houses. Here the flared skirt provides a practical application of providing both rain and sun protection, but also an opportunity for a view to the garden from the upper level.
ARCHITECT Vokes and Peters (with Owen and Vokes and Peters)
PROJECT TEAM Stuart Vokes, Aaron Peters, Michael Lineburg, Nicholas Skepper.