Pushing at the Boundaries of Residential Design - Hawthorn House by Edition Office
Hawthorn, VIC, Australia
The Hawthorn House is described by architects Edition Office as “one grand outdoor theatre for living”. Set within two dramatic concrete shrouds, the project pushes at the boundaries of residential design, yet it is simultaneously driven by a singular focus on the essential activities and experiences of human life.
The Local Project spoke with Edition Office directors Aaron Roberts and Kim Bridgland in 2018 when the project was still under construction. In that conversation, they reflected on the Hawthorn House as defined by seemingly contradictory states, “at once civic and domestic, enclosed yet intensely open, exposed yet private, heavy yet surprisingly light.” At that stage of construction, the concrete arches and curved glazed walls were all that existed on the site, a raw combination of industrial materials untempered by the finer details of interiors or landscape design. Now that the project is complete, the full tension is felt in the interplay between the substantial weight of the concrete and the design elements at the human scale.
With the completion of the interior, the concrete shrouds are contextualised, becoming shells that protectively encapsulate the dwelling spaces within, which are defined by their relationship to habitation. The architects explain that “in defiance of its strong formal language, the spatial relationships, material tactility and embodied experiences of the home seek to promote a nurturing sanctuary for a growing family.” Balustrades and door handles are composed of unrefined intersections of brass, timber and concrete, which are allowed to patina and age with the tactile connection to the human body. And the concrete arches facilitate the design’s remarkable openness and lightness, giving each space the gift of a framed view to the garden beyond, thus accentuating the inhabitants’ experience of the entire site.
Edition Office’s primary design response was to “first recalibrate the entire project site into a large and singular terrace.” The connection between the home and this garden terrace were envisaged as “effortless and immersive”, yet the closed face presented by the upper concrete façade would appear to deny this objective. It is only on venturing inside and upstairs that the execution of this idea becomes clear: the upper floor houses the sleeping and bathing quarters, and these areas pull away from the concrete structures at each end to create private courtyards filled with plants, which catch glimpses of sky above and the gently waving canopy of the three mature trees, a lemon-scented gum, peppercorn and oak, on the site. Full-height glazing connects the bedrooms and bathrooms with their own, unexpected private outdoor worlds and imbues these seemingly-closed spaces with natural light.
The control of light serves to heighten the experience of the design, both internally and externally. The presence or absence of light emphasises select aspects of the interior, while the exterior is enlivened by the presence of dappled shadows against the concrete where the leaves of the trees cast a constantly rippling play of light and shade. Light also plays a role in the thermal stability of the house. Passive solar design principles are employed throughout, with substantial thermal mass and cross-ventilation contributing to the natural heating and cooling of the Hawthorn House. Glazing is pulled back from the exterior concrete walls to create a passive eave to the north, penetrating warming winter sun deep into the home while shading from the harsh summer heat.
The guiding objective behind the design was the need to create a strong sense of sanctuary, “a feeling of being ‘elsewhere’ and away from the challenges of a daily working life.” This sense of refuge is undoubtedly felt in the protective nature of the shells that cloak the building, in the connection to the natural environment from the interior, and in the secret courtyards and private spaces of the upper level behind the concrete façade. Yet it is accentuated further by the tension at the heart of the design, between the civic and the domestic, lightness and weight, enclosure and openness. Taking on an almost liminal condition that encapsulates these seemingly-contradictory states, the design fully realises its intent to create someplace ‘other’, an unmistakable place apart from the rest of the world.
It is, thus, in the tension and the contrast that this project exerts its true purpose. Understood in these terms, the Hawthorn House becomes a “theatre for living”, crafting an environment with great care, precision, and responsiveness to the human experience of habitation.