Architects: Owen and Vokes
Location: Balmoral , Brisbane, Australia
Project Team: Paul Owen, Stuart Vokes, Aaron Peters, Emma Hodgkinson, Wesley Kelder
Contractor: AJ Ryan Constructions
Project Year: 2007
Photographs: Jon Linkins
Our reaction to the setting of an existing Queenslander – a site which is heavily overlooked by 5 neighbouring properties – led to the construction of a facade that idealises the setting for new rooms accommodating a bathhouse, stair room, guest room, family room and a writer’s studio. The principal orientation of these rooms is manipulated towards the north and backyard landscape compositions are framed with carefully positioned apertures and orchestrated lines of sight. Views of neighbouring houses are edited from key moments of occupation in the new rooms.
With an ongoing interest in room making, we questioned how the new facade may conceal or reveal the arrangement of rooms and the building’s cross section, and conversely, how the nature of rooms directly behind the facade may inform its elevational composition. We drew on both the formal devices of Palladio and the latent spatial complexity and silent facades of Loos as inspiration.
Palladio’s elevated Villa Foscari in Malcontenta provided answers to our topographically challenged ambition to engage the rear garden and ground plane of the steep terrain, and as such our building re-enacts the promenade sequence from Piano Nobile to garden at Malcontenta. The vertical promenade effectively places the occupant en-route to or from the garden once in the stair room and as such, circulation through the new works is undeniably connected to the garden.
Formal compositions and fenestration in the facade suggest possible room planning behind, proving ambiguous and adding to a reticence appropriate in suburbia, where privacy holds currency.
The ordering logic of the facade provides little explanation of the subtle complexity of the building’s cross section and the latent hierarchy of rooms. For example, the large gaping opening (which could be Palladio’s thermal window) suggests a large or public room behind, however one discovers a stair room.
Furthermore, the same large opening cannot be closed-off to undesirable weather conditions, reinforcing the coalescence of the stair (promenade) and nature (garden).
The application of Loos’ room planning technique assisted in optimising the tall volume deploying rooms over effectively 3 levels in what is constrained by authorities as a 2 storey structure – reminding us of the story of Loos’ Villa Mueller in Prague.