Lot 176

January 20, 2011

Amidst the community of architecturally designed homes in Elysium Noosa sits Richard Kirk Architects’ polished residential project, Lot 176.

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Named for the paradise of Homer’s Iliad (“…and there the mortal relatives of the king of the gods were transported, without tasting death, to enjoy an immortality of bliss” [Odyssey 4.563]), Elysium Noosa is a paradise made real. Real, that is, if your idea of paradise is a manicured suburban estate dotted with the creations of some of Australia’s finest architects, including Richard Kirk Architects (RKA), Bligh Voller Nield, Woods Bagot, Lahz Nimmo Architects, Spence Pearson and Cox Rayner, among others. Aesthetically, there is a certain Australian flavour to the estate that verges on the modernist and is somewhat a dictate of the three-bedroom requirements of the majority of owners, which demands the greatest possible interior space in a two-storey dwelling. The result is a row of beautiful boxes, which is not in the least monotonous or uninteresting. Each building is engagingly unique.

From the street view, Lot 176 is also a box, though an exceptionally beautiful one with an exterior of meticulous Western red cedar cladding and screens, complemented by zinc. Compounding the boxy shape dilemma, an interior pushed to its limits suffers an entirely exterior perspective. In the close proximity of Elysium Noosa, perpetually looking at your neighbours somewhat defeats the architectural ideal. RKA has addressed this dilemma through a floor plan (that occupies the majority of the block) by linking two U-shaped halves of interior and exterior. In so doing, it has integrated a courtyard, pool and patio with the twin primary spaces of the building in such a way as to create a contiguous internal/ external perspective. The effect is enhanced further by floor-to-ceiling windows (framed in New Guinea rosewood) at each side of the courtyard, which slide completely from view – rendering the lower floor a pavilion from the most extreme front, to the garden and golf course view at the rear.

The use of large voids throughout the house exponentially increases the scale and lightness, while further endorsing the house’s overall quality of plein air living. The largest single space is the main lower room towards the rear of the house, between the courtyard and patio. A kitchen and dining area inhabit this vast open space, as does the lounge portion below a two-storey void. And while the area is large, the scale has been reduced for comfortable habitation through a low window-length seat, which the owner has redefined as a display unit. With either use, the result is the same, as the eye is halted and redirected along the expanse, rather than falling straight through the windows to the pool and garden beyond. The main furniture, placed to form wide structural stripes across the space, further compact the whole, as does the solid kitchen island.

Timber has been used extensively throughout the project with precise cabinetry both internally and externally. Within, cabinetry in Queensland maple has been polished to show the gorgeously sumptuous colour and grain, while rosewood doorframes and blackbutt stairs and flooring have been treated with a variety of processes to achieve a multiplicity of finishes within a limited tonal range. For the exterior, a variety of cladding and screening devices have been devised in Western red cedar. One is unabashedly Japanese in style, comprising vertical slats that are perfectly separated with a milled bead, threaded with steel to reinforce the structure and stabilise the precision of equal distance.

Shutters have also been used, again with equidistant spacing, in horizontal cedar slats that are solid and substantial enough to smell strongly of cedar even after a year of exposure. The fox red hue is also still intact, but has started to silver, causing non-architecturally minded visitors to query when it will be painted or finished. The owners take these queries in their stride and parcel them with the other big visitor question of fly screens: “We do like we do in Bali. We use mozzie coils; they may not be chic, but they work.”

As an exterior feature, the black, mosaic clad, freestanding 25-metre pool connects the courtyard and patio. Placed above ground (though sunken from floor level) its own height acts as a fence, thus negating the need for an enclosure, while safety requirements have been met with a simple glass partition at the point of access. The pool design boasts an infinity edge, which doubles as a perpetually cascading waterfall. It is the sort of feature usually found in resorts and tends to look so when found in southern climes. The blistering heat of Queensland, however, makes pools a mandatory part of living and their integration into the living space is entirely desirable and aesthetically relevant. Visually, the pool plays as a dramatic horizontal band of colour running parallel to the built-in seating and proximal kitchen island.

The flooring of travertine extends through the entire project and forms the bath corrals. It is an exceptionally good choice for a tropical home, as the material allows for the visually robust flow of sizeable tiles, while its light, variegated striation does not dominate or compete with the cabinetry and art works. In terms of environment control, travertine’s thermal mass moderates temperature swings, providing an increased degree of coolness, further augmented by the design’s abundance of cross-ventilation.

The flow of air throughout this project has been carefully considered and well-realised with every room optimising thermal cooling. Each of the three bedrooms on the upper floor opens off an internal walkway, which in itself provides airflow. Separating each bedroom from the house’s exterior is an enclosed balcony of cedar shutters, which can be slid to either side for maximal view, while always limiting solar penetration. The result is a pocket of air, which buffers the elements, but can be easily released by adjusting the shutter as the sun traverses the house and ambient warmth is sought.

As Charles Eames has stated, “…the details are not details – they make the product”. This remains true of architecture and, in the case of Lot 176, the whole is successful because the details are so intrinsically relevant to the whole: the choice of materials is as functional as it is beautiful; so too are the scale of design and introduction of voids. The minutiae are also exquisite, with meticulous lines, fine finishes and solid hardware in abundance. The built-in cabinetry is immaculately executed and has been used to great effect in reducing scale visually without reducing space. The house is, in fact, extremely liveable and aesthetically warm. Embracing the quirks of an architectural enclave remains debatable; however, for Lot 176, it’s a rare punter who would not don a Hermès tracksuit and Nike runners for a lap around these Elysium fields.

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