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The following is taken from Karen McCartney’s editor’s letter in AR142 – Superhouses.
Life often takes you on pathways you least expect and the fact that I am writing an introduction to this edition of Architectural Review Asia Pacific is a perfect example.
I have lived, for 15 years, in a 1967 flat-roofed Sydney School house of timber and brick, designed by architect Bruce Rickard, who educated me in architecture by default. A reluctant public speaker, he encouraged his clients to speak on his behalf and this taught me both to think about, and articulate, what I valued about living in one of his houses.
While a magazine editor I turned my hand to book publishing, starting with my own house and researching nationally I produced two books – 50/60/70 Iconic Australian Houses and its counterpart 70/80/90 Iconic Australian Houses.
I met, interviewed and wrote about architects and visited some of the most interesting homes in the country. I found I loved listening to architects’ philosophies, their solutions to challenges, their cunning ways with materials, light, site and landscape. The exhibition, which resulted from the book, ran for three months in 2014 at the Museum of Sydney and is now travelling the country.
This leads me to Superhouse: Architecture and Interiors Beyond the Everyday* – a book title that demands definition, so I developed broad parameters that encompass its sheer potential and breadth of application.
“A super house is one that delivers a 360-degree completeness of form, its exterior and interior have a seamless execution and, above all else, it is awe-inspiring. This quality can be elicited from the perfection of its natural setting, a remarkable use of materials, an exceptional level of craft, groundbreaking innovation or a use of space that lifts the spirit.”
Hence, with this definition, I could enjoy the sheer scope of ‘super’. For example, a Meisian pavilion in Ireland by Scott Tallon Walker is super because, not only does it cantilever dramatically over a river, but also, in a land dominated by low-lying white thick-walled cottages, it is a cultural anomaly. Likewise, Wood Marsh’s Flinders House, an undulating form in the landscape that the architects describe as something ‘unearthed’ from the landscape, as opposed to an addition to it. And so it goes, each project with its own distinctive form of what it means to be ‘super’.
In this residential issue of AR these elastic notions of ‘super’ play out in very different forms and are showcased in a range of exceptional houses and apartments from across Australia and New Zealand.
The line-up features a small space with a powerful presence designed by Pattersons Associates, set on a volcanic peninsula south-east of Christchurch, New Zealand. It immerses its occupants in the beauty of its surrounds, its view and its deep sense of calm and retreat. Also in New Zealand, in the popular beachside suburb of Omaha, Fearon Hay Architects has taken an ingenious approach to the balance of privacy and openness, alongside the alignment of interior and exterior execution. Through a ‘lightbox’ structure of semi-transparent glass and steel the structure turns its back on the holiday enclave, focusing its attention towards the sand dunes and ocean beyond.
From beachside we go to inner-city Melbourne, where Breathe Architecture exercises its signature conceptual bravado with a project called Tinderbox. Working within a poorly conceived renovation, which paid little heed to the historical context of this landmark warehouse, the studio has re-engineered the space through a combination of muscular materials and bursts of incendiary colour. Another architectural solution to apartment living comes from Chenchow Little, with its Darling Point Apartment in Sydney, redefining the art of display and surprise in a contained residential space. Here, the crafted joinery solutions combine with a sense of play – stepping out of the lift you are immersed in the colourful world of artist Esther Stewart, who has created a custom mural for the foyer. Finally, there is a house renovation by Brisbane practice, Vokes and Peters, which has taken on the most difficult task of all – extracting the extraordinary from the ordinary, while delivering on a multilayered client brief, in its Double Courtyard House.
It has been a tremendous experience to work with the team at Architectural Review Asia Pacific to present this take on residential architecture. The selection illustrates something of the diversity of practice, and the ability to rise to all sorts of challenges and continue to make residential spaces that solve problems, provoke thought and inspire.
Karen McCartney – Guest Editor
AR142 is on newsstands now, and available through Zinio.