CBD Apartment

Oct 7, 2009
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Photography by Rhiannon Slatter
  • Designer
  • Architect Maddison Architects

The recent retrospective exhibition of the work of Rosalie Gascoigne reminds us of the contemporaneous nature of Australian landscape art. Gascoigne walked the earth collecting debris from the natural and industrial world, which –– when assembled under her keen eye –– exposed an Antipodean vision. She used pieces with prior lives that evidenced both what had passed and what needed to be reinvented. The juxtaposition of the linear with the textural, the excessive with a certain simplicity –– these were her methods.

As designers we are forever looking at art practice for guidance and regulation and Gascoigne’’s techniques leap easily into our discipline. In a sense, Maddison Architects’’ recent CBD apartment pursues a similar marriage of surface with the rich tactility provided by natural materials and crafted pieces. Here, the landscape is reinterpreted as an Antipodean abstraction in suspended three-dimensional form.

The CBD apartment was commissioned after the international couple saw a teeny tiny image of Maddison’s’ Transport Restaurant in a magazine. Their brief was for an ‘Australian retreat’ to which they could flee for three or four months of their year. The apartment fitout was to be an exercise in indulging their new-found Australian aesthetic and to maximise the use of local materials and designers.

Maddison Architects’’ response was to see the apartment as a kind of apparatus in which to invest an abstract idea of the Australian landscape. In doing so it seems that certain questions emerged about the interior limits of the apartment and the vastness of the exterior beyond. For example, where is landscape in such an elevated and opulent place? Is it the horizon line? The bird’s-eye view of the city below? And, importantly, can it be manifest in the apartment itself?

Maddison’s’ concept begins with the upward journey to the penthouse, which provides a long and large exhale required from the pavement to the luxury above. The apartment absorbs the entire floor and, as such, is forced to acknowledge the quirks of the existing canvas. The 445-square-metre floor plan is cleverly assigned pragmatic zones to form tripartite wings spilling from the privately accessed lift. A series of hues choreograph these spaces –– deep browns, exuberant blues and variations on a luminescent burnt orange are what gather and construct the space.

The quiet south-facing wing is reserved for the master bedroom and an extensive robe and en suite reveals clever yet understated detailing. Locally produced carpet weaves a continuous thread from a short looped pile to shag and –– like a line in the sand –– this subtle shift inscribes the intimate centre of the bedroom.

In the bathroom the designer standards of Carrara marble and Bisazzi mosaic tile conceal a push-released cabinet in the wall to harbour all manner of products necessitated by the penthouse life.

This wing also includes a separate guest area and an adjacent art studio for one half of the couple. Here the joinery frames the room and configures a desk, a display and storage unit, as well as dividing the room and orientating the space to maximise the painter’’s light. The entire south wing is tied together with a sweeping balcony at its perimeter, allowing for one step closer to the horizon.

The north-east wing is for the less formal aspects of living such as the kitchen, dining and entertainment area. The signature triangulation of the plan in this area is overly spacious in a deliberate act to ensure continued collecting and furnishing. The opposing area is a spacious formal lounge –– a mirror image of the informal wing –– with a private bar and extensive views. Artworks by Frank Bauer catch the reflected city glory and a fireplace in the sky gives a groundedness to a room that otherwise may take flight.

This space is privileged via a podium of recycled ironbark that elevates with spectacular affects. First, there are small sunken pockets that are created for secret moments of repose and discretion and, second, the views across Melbourne become statuesque and are surveyed as though being seen for the first time.

Two follies mediate the formal and the informal areas. A circular study-cum-library to the north provides a sculptural trick in the formal geometries that dominate the apartment and a TV room appears and disappears as a result of the metallic hanging screen surrounding the area. This ambiguity is further developed in the layering of the window furnishings –– consisting of a mesh screen and blackout fittings, as well as the interior decorative curtains.

Peter Maddison reflects on the reciprocity that grew between architect and client. Hours and days and weeks spent pursuing and selecting the disparate parts and then the joint efforts of gathering it together –– of the formal articulation. Like all great gigs the creative life of the project flowed beyond the scope of works, friendships were formed, wine was consumed and lives transformed. Next!

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