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Chrofi clifftop creative retreat reveals immersive design 

Chrofi clifftop creative retreat reveals immersive design 


Sydney-based studio Chrofi have demonstrated awe-inspiring and innovative design in the Arndt Residence on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. 

Chrofi are compelled to imbue projects with an ‘unexpected dimension.’ The Arndt Residence, a fusion of an art gallery, family home and guest space, does just that, highlighting the studio’s meticulous landscape-responsive, people-centric and provocative design.

The studio’s inception traces back 20 years, marked by their victory in a competition that attracted almost 700 submissions, where they were tasked with reimagining the TKTS booth in the iconic Times Square of New York City. 

Director Tai Ropiha explains how Chrofi’s award-winning design reflected an approach that still stays with the practice today – to interrogate the psychology and philosophy behind a project, and use design as a means in which to answer questions about how people use space. 

“We always approach everything from a bigger picture perspective. How can we position this in contemporary life, the evolution of the city and what cities mean to us? We try to answer the bigger questions to give the conceptual idea more longevity,” says Ropiha. 

Arndt Residence

Chrofi first came into contact with the owner of the Arndt Residence, renowned art dealer Mathias Arndt, in 2010, after Arndt commissioned the studio to design a pop-up exhibition in Sydney’s The Rocks. 

Arndt and his wife purchased land near Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula, and reached out to Chrofi to help create a space deeply connected to nature.

“They wanted a beautiful, grounded place where they could come and have a normal family life, but at the same time have the capacity to bring friends and loved ones in to talk about art and enjoy the space,” says Ropiha. 

For the residence, lavishness and sleekness were not priorities, it was more so about creating a vibrant and unique family home conducive to entertaining and socialising. 

Arndt was also inspired to create art at the property, therefore the residence was envisaged as a multi-purpose space where the properties of a gallery, art studio, family home and guest space effectively fused.

“It was always going to be so much more than a home,” says Ropiha. 

Effective response to site topography

Ropiha likens the property to a ‘farmlet’, as the residence does not have overly generous amounts of space, but sits on the edge of a decent amount of remnant coastal vegetation.

“The site has that classic undulating topography, which is felt in full effect when there are wind-swept storms coming off the Bass Strait,” says Ropiha.

The design sought to enclose the residence in a cocoon- like state, and make those staying feel like they are the only people in the world, while fostering a pronounced connection to nature. 

Art Barn

Formerly a two-storey, ramshackle house boasting an unusual combination of architectural features, the art barn sits in the middle of the property on the highest elevation of the topography. 

Ropiha said the team realised they could capitalise on the former house’s location in the central core to achieve a double-height volume. The art barn was an opportunity for the team to design something with an air of the abstract and unknown – what resulted was an angular, vertical and mysterious structure atop the hill.

“The barn has this extreme shape where you can have a four-metre-high piece of art and you’ve got these two giant windows out to the landscape. But then it tapers down to human scale and then you’re brought out into the lawn,” says Ropiha. 

Comfort prioritised in recycling of former house 

The recycling of the former house into the art barn sought to ensure that the space, however eclectic and abstract, would still allow those using the space to feel inspired to create and experiment in a peaceful and creative environment. 

“It was a parallel thing of trying to retain everything possible while completely changing the character of the building to be something that could house creative processes, as opposed to feeling like you’re trying to do an amazing piece of art sitting in someone’s lounge room,” says Ropiha. 

Design that emphasises the beauty of the landscape

Ropiha rejoices over how the east coast of Australia delivers opportunities to design spaces that allow people to live, work and play in harmony with nature. This appreciation for nature inevitably produces a more intimate appreciation for home. 

Chrofi are driven to develop new and untapped ways of bringing an outdoor experience into the house, even in areas prone to extreme winter. Ropiha says there is a way to create an indoor oasis that is safe and secure while still immersed in the outdoors. 

“Through large apertures, you can bring the outdoor experience inside the house – at the Arndt residence, you can sit inside and take in the storms while having a glass of wine and a meal, and see the power of the Southern Ocean coming at you,” says Ropiha. 

Immersive sensory experience of nature

He says that Chrofi’s goal to create open and expansive sitting and living spaces wherein you feel you’re in the very eye of the storm, or about to topple over a cliff, may seem unfamiliar to people who are comfortable with the traditional concept of a front room that relies on tight spaces and cosyness. 

However,  Ropiha finds a secluded space results in disconnection from the surrounding landscape, and hinders the experience of immersing oneself in nature. 

Chrofi is determined to design spaces that encourage people to realise the beauty and value of the Australian landscape – all the ruggedness, wildness and unpredictability of a ground-shaking storm, a glaring sun, or a still, hot night. 

Ropiha says landscape responsive design also lends itself to readily embraced design principles of sustainability and co-designing with Country. “They all fold into each other,” he finishes.

Photography by Ben Hosking.

Read about Plus Architecture’s design of affordable high-quality housing.

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