Habitation Renovation - Edsall Street by Ritz&Ghougassian
The Armadillo & Co Series
Malvern, VIC, Australia
Edsall Street by Ritz&Ghougassian takes habitation as its primary focus, from which emerges an architectural language that, in turn, influences form.
Yet to the casual observer, Edsall Street would appear to be defined first and foremost by its form. A minimalist combination of cream masonry blockwork and timber-batten screening, Edsall Street presents an almost fortress-like facade, juxtaposed against the dainty white Victorian cottage that originally occupied the site in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Malvern.
Directors Gilad Ritz and Jean-Paul Ghougassian explain, however, that “form is not our primary goal. We’re not interested in an objectified envelope – it’s about creating volume and space that nurtures the inhabitant, resulting in an experience internally and externally.” Considered through this lens, Edsall Street’s minimalist form can be understood as the outcome of a rigorous process of reduction, in which each element is stripped back to only that which is most essential to the architects’ intention for the building as spaces designed for habitation.
Edsall Street presents an almost fortress-like facade.
Edsall Street is the home of hospitality entrepreneur Julian Moussi and his wife Kirsty-Lea, with whom Ritz&Ghougassian had worked on several cafes, including most recently Bentwood in Fitzroy North. This long working relationship led to an extremely trusting and open brief when the time came to design the home for Julien and Kirsty-Lea. Nonetheless, compared to working on a hospitality project, Julien says “with our house, it was a lot more emotional. In a cafe, once the operational requirements are ticked off Gil and Jean-Paul have free reign. With your home, though, every detail and finish is considered.”
This focus on detail is reflected in the architects’ approach, which sees an emphasis on exposing the building’s tectonics and which relies upon the meticulous execution of the finest of details. “I find myself staring at details in the house quite often, as I really appreciate how difficult some of them were to achieve,” says Julien. For Ritz&Ghougassian, it is a natural progression of their emphasis on stripping back the design so as to not disguise the building’s construction. “It requires a higher level of attention from the builder, but gives a truth and timelessness to the project because everything is on display,” says Jean-Paul.
“It’s about creating volume and space that nurtures the inhabitant, resulting in an experience internally and externally.”
This level of reduction informs the material palette, with walls constructed from exposed masonry highlighting the materiality of concrete and the texture of the blocks creating a subtle repetition that speaks to the process by which the walls are built, brick by brick. “It’s about modularity and repetition,” says Gil, “and the texture of the blocks is beautiful. It’s highlighted when light shines across, and they weather fantastically well, gaining a beautiful patina with time.”
Perhaps the material’s most significant impact on habitation, however, is in its function as a protective shell, creating an acoustically-sheltered internal environment by neutralising the urban noise. The sense of these walls as a protective envelope is enhanced by the series of precisely controlled openings that mediate the connection with the outdoors. Gil explains the beauty of these openings is that “you don’t get direct beams of light through the spaces, instead there are acute angles where light falls through then hits another surface and is refracted. So, you have a space that doesn’t give you a contrast between light and shade, it’s a middle ground of very soft and diffused light.”
“It requires a higher level of attention from the builder, but gives a truth and timelessness to the project because everything is on display.”
Combined with this delicate light, timber and select soft furnishings moderate the experience of the interior. On a macro scale, the design sits as a robust concrete shell within the streetscape, explains Jean-Paul, “then, we hone down to the human scale, layering timber, stone and soft furnishings all at a more minute scale to add softness. It’s quite purposeful, as it contextualises the space for the user.” In a space defined by reduction and simplicity, furnishings that can both hold their own in such a strong architectural context while harmonising with the design intent are key.
Rugs from the Armadillo & Co Egyptian collection are layered over the burnished concrete floors, creating a tactile contrast and defining zones within the space. “We found the Armadillo & Co rugs an easy pairing with Edsall Street,” says Jean-Paul. “The rugs chosen are generally neutral and can marry to the various tonal spaces throughout the house. The texture is linear and in certain spaces, we used this to emphasise the linearity of the block work. The rugs are soft to the touch and this is an important characteristic, as any furnishings need to layer and soften the space.”
Combined with delicate light, timber and select soft furnishings moderate the experience of the interior.
This approach to furnishings not only echoes Ritz&Ghougassian’s overall approach to material selection but also to spatial planning. While the new addition is essentially open and connected, the architects’ intention was to create smaller moments within larger spaces. “It’s important to us to read spaces both as singular and contiguous, the idea of compartmentalising space is a nice way of creating more unique experiences within each volume,” says Gil.
Overall, Edsall Street is divided into a series of volumes, falling away in the living area to create a deeper volume, while a shallower volume encloses the kitchen. “This creates a sense of the overall entity but also means you can see the space delineated. Delineating space allows us to create different experiences that tangibly differ from room to room,” he explains.
Every aspect of Edsall Street is informed by the architects’ focus on the experience of habitation that the design creates for the occupants, giving the project a heart around which everything coalesces. In this way, Ritz&Ghougassian enliven and bring meaning to the strong minimalist architectural form.