- Article by Online Editor
- Photography by Scott Burrows
- Architect Arkhefield
At Arkhefield, this house is known as the Ox House, but it could just as easily be referred to as the ‘R’ house – its extruded cross section bears a remarkable resemblance to the letter. This section sets up a rakish and glamorous street frontage, well balanced by varied scale and supporting detail, and promises an interior straight from the set of Thunderbirds.
Arkhefield was able to convince Brisbane City Council that a floating base, screened verandas and an expressed roof was in keeping with Brisbane’s character housing design code. There is at least one specific contextual gesture offering visual continuity: the prevailing angle employed on the façade is the same as that for the steeply pitched roof of the neighbour’s 1920s ‘Tudor’ house, making the juxtaposition easier on the eye. The architect’s reference to the raised floor platform, screened verandah and expressed roof suggests a regionalist approach, and a reading of the house’s form does set up an expectation of settings for futuristic sub-tropical living within. However, the presence of these key elements does not automatically produce cohesion between a work and its locale – but then, a contextual fit was not an expressed objective of the architects here.
The R-shaped section has the house emphatically turning its back to the south and opening logically northwards to winter sun. Conventionally, the objective of an extruded form-based design is to provide naturally for comfort and programmatic parameters, without compromising the section. This house is more complex, and the need for a lean-to laundry and pool shading means that the sectional rule does not hold. It is the folding of the roof that gives rise to the section and, by extension, the house’s formal expression. In this respect, the project is part of a continuing exploration by Arkhefield into the potential of the folded roof and tilted wall-roof-wall relationship, evident in the Ballandean House (2006) and the Brisbane Southbank Pavilions (currently under construction).
Arkhefield is not afraid of what director Andrew Gutteridge refers to as ‘strange-making’, recognising that the excitement of the unfamiliar delivers a dopamine hit. The practice also welcomes the necessity for inventive detailing that results from this approach. Arkhefield has worked in Ox House with the familiar Brisbane architect’s suite of off-form concrete, natural timber, a layering of screens, and a preference for all things sliding and pivoting to capture light and breeze. To this palette has been added a layer of detailing arising from the need to resolve the deterministic form with a fairly conventional program for living. The need to conceptualise, invent and perfect a building down to the last bespoke recessed door handle has been met enthusiastically. As a result, the house is lush.
Attention to craft is evident in the resolution of detail, such that almost every element appears to have a tripartite articulation; concrete columns are rounded, recessed and rebated, exterior soffits are triple stepped. It is a rich mixture.
The space of the extended section is interrupted by three elements internally (a stair, a bench, a pantry and scullery) and a bench externally, each one sumptuously detailed. Of the internal set pieces, the most memorable is a very simple and beautifully executed white steel and timber spiral stair, which travels from the top of the house all the way down to the basement garage (its dark grey concrete ground to a deep terrazzo). Space flows. With no door separating the space for the gleaming German emission control systems from the space of the house above, the promise of a Thunderbirds set is delivered.
Arkhefield’s client has contributed to the house’s material lushness with grand exuberance. A successful club owner, he has oftentimes unilaterally brought in the expertise of a range of artisans whose skills were previously engaged in nightclub fit-outs. There is an obvious overlay of ornamentation in house and garden, including expressive light fittings and art installations. Consistent artistic vision and effort from both the architect and the client has ensured the overall composition, which is sure to become richer and more intense as the bump-in process continues, maintains a sense of unity.
There is an understanding within the discipline that architecture will have to simplify in the coming post-GFC, climate-change era. Some of the more pleasurable spaces of this house do not rely for their potency on elaborate external form and complex detail. The simple upper corridor with its soft curve-blended floor-wall-ceiling, nicely ended by the contrasting curve of a cantilevered timber block balustrade, is one such space.
This work could be criticised as embroidered and self-consciousness; so much has been willingly included that a definitive resolution throughout has been impossible. However, it has a big persona and its rakishness and substantial materiality have already created a local icon; a boom time party house in Oxlade Drive, coveted by all the groovy young things.