A House Defined by Its Unique Balance of Seemingly Contradictory States
Hawthorn, VIC, Australia
With its distinctive monolithic concrete shrouds sheltering the living spaces beneath, the Hawthorn House by Edition Office is defined by its unique balance of seemingly contradictory states.
The architects describe the project as at once civic and domestic, enclosed yet intensely open, exposed yet private, heavy yet surprisingly light – and while its design language is severe, it is driven by a remarkable sensitivity to the site and to the human condition.
The Local Project spoke to Edition Office directors Kim Bridgland and Aaron Roberts during the construction of the Hawthorn House, when the vast concrete structures were all that existed of the project, heightening the Brutalist effect of the material. These concrete forms, cast on site, create the overwhelming first impression of the building, and the strength and tactility of the material is integral to the design. The concrete was cast against a framework of rough-hewn Oregon timber boards, creating the organic irregular texture of these external walls. The boards were then removed and cleaned, to be re-used as fencing so that the entire perimeter of the site is composed of the very same boards that provided the texture and character to the concrete pavilions.
While the effect of these concrete volumes, uninterrupted by windows or adornment, might be forbidding and cold, in fact the opposite is true – the simplicity of the highly textured surface forms a canvas against which the three old trees on site, a lemon scented gum, oak and peppercorn, cast their shadow, forming a delicate interplay of light and shade. The concrete arches enclose the house creating a calming, primitive sense of shelter and protection from the outside world. Aaron explains that ‘Our hope for this project was to provide a strong sense of sanctuary, a feeling of being ‘elsewhere’ and away from the rigors and challenges of a daily working life’.
Yet simultaneously, the architects also wanted this sense of sanctuary and enclosure to be balanced by a profound level of openness. ‘We wanted the ability to read the full limit of the site from one side to the other and for the connections between the home to this seemingly all-encompassing outside to be both effortless and immersive’, Aaron says. The design achieves this by delicately inserting the glazed living spaces within the concrete shells, creating from the inside a sense of seamless connection with the outside. The repeated motif of the concrete archway, Kim explains, ‘evolved as a way of structurally supporting the house with its own skin and removing any columns from the interior and thus providing that very particular sense of prospect and refuge that we were striving for’.
Described by the architects as ‘a pair of concrete shrouds, each one with its own proportion and personality’, the concrete pavilions provide the framework for how the internal spaces in the home relate to one another. The pavilions are linked on the ground floor by a walkway, creating a distinction between the living and lounge spaces. The bedrooms are located in the upper level, hidden behind the seemingly-windowless concrete facade. The decision to locate the bedrooms within the concrete shell was made in response to the urban site, which required a high level of protection from overlooking neighbouring buildings. While this upper level appears to be a solid, unbroken mass, in fact the private spaces pull away from the ends of the protective concrete shells, allowing each of them to look out through full height and full width windows and doors onto their own private courtyards, to be filled with potted plants, vines, sky and the hanging canopy of one of the three big trees that delineate the site. In direct contrast with the expectations created by the exterior elevations, the architects explain that ‘these are incredibly private spaces filled with natural light and the delight of dappled shadows and vignette views into the branches of the beautiful old existing trees.’
The Hawthorn House is a very specific response to the site, in particular the suburban environment and the ‘quite remarkable’ old trees, and the lives of the clients. When Edition Office were approached to design the project, the brief was for a solid, long lasting building which would age gracefully – ‘A private yet open home with multiple living areas to allow children and adults within the family to grow and have their changing needs accommodated over time’, says Kim. As a design office, the architects explain they are fortunate to have worked in a wide range of remote and regional sites where we have developed a very particular way of thinking and responding to site and to context. Kim says, ‘we see our urban projects as no different, in that they all require a specific sense of how they connect to their site. For this project we saw an opportunity to recalibrate the entire property and to treat it as a large and singular outdoor room, one large outdoor theatre for living well.’
The house takes a holistic response to the site and its inhabitants’ lives through the use of passive solar design principles throughout, creating a home that is appropriate for its environment. A solar pool-heating system and significant photovoltaic system are hidden on the roof, and offsetting the lower floor glass walls from the outer concrete shell in a precise ratio generates a built-in eave to the northern façade. By perfecting the eve and orientation, winter sun floods deep into each living space, and in summer it is shaded from the extreme heat. The significant thermal mass of the concrete walls and hydronic-heated concrete floors holds onto the warmth of the deeply penetrating sunlight in the cooler months, and in summer this internal thermal mass along with the high levels of cross ventilation help to keep the house naturally cool.
Edition Office see their houses ‘as being a framework and a facilitator for the lives and lifestyles of our clients’, imbuing their designs with their clients’ character. ‘Architecture can capture and amplify the aspirational qualities of how the individual desires to live their life’, says Aaron. The Hawthorn House is born of conversations around the clients’ daily rituals of sleeping, eating, bathing, relaxing and of also hosting a broader circle of friends and family. ‘It is a result of housing the particular activities of their lives and curating the spatial relationships which link these activities’, says Kim.
It is this approach, which as Kim explains ‘sees architecture, beyond its core function, as a vessel which can modify both our experience of place and amplify particular experiences of one’s daily life’, that makes the Hawthorn House so extraordinary. While the distinctive concrete shrouds and archways are already what the project has become known for, it is much more than simply a dramatic facade. From the broad scope of the striking formal design down to the finest detail, the design is focused on finding an elegant, singular response not only to the many individual requirements of the project, but to the universal requirements for shelter from, and connection with, the environment.