In Gary Marinko’s latest project, containers and objects float in a gleaming fluid space, lit by sculptural skylights and glowing walls. Nigel Westbrook reviews this provocative exploration of the idea of house as artificial nature.
Photography Jacqueline Stevenson
The Poll house is situated in Nedlands, a prosperous suburb of Perth gently sloping down to the Swan River. It is the second house designed by Gary Marinko for the same client. The previous house, a romantically-sited modernist pavilion in the south-west resort town of Margaret River, was reviewed in the March/April 2000 issue of Architecture Australia. It is to the clients’ considerable credit that they have been willing to participate in two such experiments in contemporary architecture.
There, the apparent similarities between the two houses end. Whereas the Margaret River house sits in stark contrast to its site, opening out with extensive glass walls onto an expansive panorama, the Nedlands house sits low, hemmed in by the tumescent Tuscan villas of moneyed Perth, and engaging in a subtle play of correspondences and differences. A thick pelt of lawn slopes down to the concrete apron of the house, which declares its suburban location with an outsized hipped roof – almost normal, even typical at first, before its anamorphic distortion becomes evident. Floating panels of louvres articulate skylights and the central courtyard within. In place of the usual guttering, a full bullnosing, more reminiscent of a suburban supermarket or factory, draws the eye in towards the recessed front wall of tilt-up concrete panels. The industrial semblance is dissipated, however, by the remarkably fine finish of the panels, and the severe beauty of the single window and the entry, denoted by a blue wall. The soffit, flush with the returned roof, transforms at night into a glowing surface, washing the wall, while patches of light glow through the louvred roof, transforming it into an abstract surface. Familiarity is thus replaced by a strange, object-like quality.
With no outlook on the side and street boundaries, the house has been designed as an introverted concrete shell that encloses a central courtyard and a series of enclosed or semi-enclosed living “containers” – artificial caves inserted into the main volume. It is a landscape of objects: a concrete bunker for the two main bedrooms, and blue-glazed brick containers of bathrooms, laundry, guest suite, and a separate apartment.
If from the street, the house is closed, sequestered like a Japanese house, the impression is reversed within the interior. Here, space is exaggerated in its extension.
Boundaries are vague, imprecise, blurred by the contrasting softness and hardness of container and objects which float on their oily, imprecise reflection in the seeming liquidity of the poured resin floor surface. Within this aqueous space, an ambiguous spatial definition is created by the changeable patterns of light. During daylight hours, the interior of the house functions as a register of time and season as the light waxes and wanes.
The peripteral passages act as a second boundary space, defined at the entrance by a stripe of light from above, and from below by the dim light of floor-recessed fibreoptic lights that are rather eerily reminiscent of the escape lights of a jumbo. In the side passages, patches of pooled light adhere to walls and floor, striated by the hidden clouds of louvers floating over the roof. On a sunny winter day the fluid lineaments of the scalloped ceiling coffering construct changing patterns of intense Prussian blue as they shape the light striking the glazed surface of the brick walls. In summer this will change to a silvery reflected ambience. Hidden lights wash the ceilings above free-standing walls and storage units. The subtle curvature of the ceiling erases any clear delineation, forming instead a vague canopy, floating above the objects. Task lighting, however, is openly declared by the use of wall-mounted strips of fluorescents.
In his design of the internal courtyard, Marinko has created a complex game of compositional and natural effects: striations of slatted light overlay the vertical corrugated steel wall cladding in a warp and weft. The edge of the steel curtain is itself like a register of the cast light. It rises and plunges in a complex trapezium, revealing or concealing the spaces within. During the day, the court functions as an external space. At night, however, it is transformed into another room by the reflected light of the louvre ceiling, while the floor-lit planting becomes an artificial landscape.
At the rear of this very large, single-level enclosed volume, the space expands out: kitchen and storage unit are enclosed as translucent boxes, linked to the living area by jellybean mauve openings. The mute fragment of a distorted white cube houses a study space, and defines the western edge. In front, a last object, an immense and beautiful she-oak table designed by the architect, sits within the expansive space almost like outdoor furniture. A new semblance comes to mind, that of the playful landscape of a dot-com office warehouse. The view opens onto a rear courtyard wall, tied into the landscape of objects by the use of the same blue bricks. In the morning, sunlight scintillates across the glazed surface, casting its sheen across the liquid floor of the living room. At night, the effects are reversed: fiberglass internal walls glow with a greenish-tinged fluorescent light, while a solitary tree stands illuminated in the courtyard: yet another object-made-artificial.
What might this notion of the house as artificial nature mean? Marinko’s architecture has undergone a considerable transformation: no longer beautiful, in the sense that the previous house could be thus described, but edgier, more provocative.
The crafted refinement of detail has been replaced by a matter-of-factness: things are – or seem to be – what they are. Windows and sliding screens are planted on the surface of walls; concrete surfaces are left as manufactured, while the fittings are off the shelf. his house is not a complex formal composition, unlike much contemporary domestic architecture, but a design of effects, modifying and mediating perceptions. The owners describe it as a very calming environment, as though the house has really been transformed into a landscape.
It is, finally, a matter of some regret that such architectural experimentation in Perth seldom occurs beyond the sequestered spaces of domestic design, rather than impacting on the lives of the public.
Nigel Westbrook is a senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Western Australia, he also runs a small architectural practice in Perth
Poll House, Perth
Architect Gary Marinko Architects—project team Gary Marinko, Corey Jones. Structural Engineer Bruechle Gilchrist and Evans. Electrical Engineer Engineering Technology Consultants. Hydraulic Engineer Carrington Associates. Quantity Surveyor Wilde and Woollard—Jay Plester. Builder Cooper & Oxley. Client Margot and Jaap Poll.
Gary Marinko is a lecturer in architecture at the University of Western Australia.