South City Beach is one of Western Australia’s more idyllic beachside suburbs. Settled in the 1960s, nestled between the Indian Ocean and Bold Park, a 437-hectare urban bushland reserve, the enclave features houses largely influenced by modernist and Sydney School styles. While many owners landscaped using indigenous coastal species, almost all the established sites are being replaced with new homes catering for contemporary lifestyles, where resort-like living is inscribed into irregular lots. Coleman House is among these, strategically conceived to utilise the entire triangular site and constructed as an example of new-world living. The suburban context is used by iredale pedersen hook to inscribe a new fragment of absolute architecture, where the building acknowledges the place but purposefully separates itself from the usual conditions of the suburb in order to assert a formal independence.
Presenting to the street as an introverted complex, the site is buttressed with indigenous landscaping and walled at its periphery. There are openings for cars and people, although vehicles are given right of way and pedestrians enter through a screened courtyard into a delightful garden, with recycled jarrah decking, a bench seat, a putting green and a stand of Melaleuca leucadendron. The main entry is carved into the bulk of the wedge-shaped house with local stone lining the cut, signalling the commencement of the interior. The foreshortened spatial depth of the house, the result of pursuing the tapered site geometry, is reminiscent of the unified mannerist compositions of the Campidoglio in Rome or the Scala Regia of the Vatican – heaven knows, the scale is comparable.
The interior is ordered by two pavilions, west and east of the central wedged spine. On entry, there is a sense of the openness of tropical resorts. Natural light floods the space, an open stair leads back around and upwards, double-storey curved glass overlooks the poolside deck and lifestyle rooms are glimpsed through openings in stone walls. At ground level, overlooking the putting green garden, a home office provides comfortable surrounds for meetings, media events and musical sojourns. Further north, a generous living space seamlessly binds the activities of cooking, dining, living, relaxing and partying, while the entire north and eastern walls open up to the BBQ loggia, poolside deck and garden pavilion. To the south-east, an internalised garage creates direct internal entry, wet areas access the eastern drying courts, and a northerly family room oversees the swimming pool. The timber-decked spine allows all rooms to orientate to the open centre, where the governing order is understood.
From the dominant entry foyer, ascending towards the bedrooms, new views over suburban streets, footpaths and bus stops are beguilingly present, and, in time, the Melaleucas will screen the surreal, David Lynchian suburban outlook. Again, the order of the two pavilions clarifies: to the west, the children’s bedrooms and the study, each adjoining a balcony to the garden from which westerly seaside breezes can be effortlessly invited into all rooms. Eastward across the bridge, the luxurious parent zone comes complete with home gym, spa bath, walk-in robe room and sleeping room, while the extraordinary sensitivity shared by client and architect has invited contemporary artists to make exemplary in-situ works. These include a compelling wall work by Helen Smith, binding a series of utilitarian rooms into a coherent spatial effect of extraordinary sensual balance.
The private northern garden grounds the entire house. It is a focus, a playground and a sanctuary, the programmatic centre that speaks of the family’s lifestyle focus: inviting outdoor dining, summer swimming, autumn lounging and springtime reading, scented by the fragrance of frangipani. The house from here is manor-like: spacious, encompassing, inclusive and complete.
The project is best understood through its plan, where the spatial gravitas of the idea is revealed, and the site’s geometric apex is used to generate radiating lines that precondition the entire order of rooms and gestures. Although this may be a simplistic device, if a work has been so resolutely determined then it is important to describe the vital effect that such an apex generates. When moving through the house, attention continually skirts between internal rooms and the glimpses afforded out across the surrounding suburban landscape, yet we always return to the apex, where an unusual space is created, a perceptual tremor that results from experiencing the limits of suburban living. At this moment, due to the focus the apex demands, the usual peripheral and contextual concerns disappear, and we begin to construct our own self-determining world, capable of blocking out the surrounding conditions, although they are clearly there.
With his installation at the rear of the house, artist Jurek Wybraniec understands the powerful spatial order and pivotal focus that the apex generates. In response to the constant visual attention the apogee demands, he has created a significant relief, an artwork embedded into the very fabric of the perimeter wall that creates an abyss, a seemingly infinite chasm of black perceptual space, located precisely where the architectural order comes to an end.
Stephen Neille is chair of Architectural Design at Curtin University, and founding director, with Simon Pendal, of the architectural practice, pendal and neille.
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