The calm interiors of this Queensland house by Bud Brannigan Architects are inspired by art galleries and Japanese design.
A good gene pool means a good start in life. While Bud Brannigan’s elegant Genkan House draws on a heritage of significant forebears, it does so lightly. The success of the project derives, in fact, from the tried-and-true formula of all great commissions: that of mutual trust and a thoughtful collaboration between architect and client.
The clients’ appreciation of the California Case Study Houses formed part of an enduring discussion in the brief. Houses of particular significance were cited early in the process; Pierre Koenig’s Bailey House (#21) and Craig Ellwood’s Fields House (#18) were nominated as favourites. Richard Neutra’s work also loomed large, as did closer-to-home early projects of Glenn Murcutt’s and Harry Seidler’s, in particular the Rose Seidler House.
It may sound like a lot of DNA to deal with, but with a clear understanding of the overriding importance of functionality in each of these houses, any slavish mimicry was out of the question. The clients, who began as a couple sans children, became, during the seven-year project, a family of three, then four, then five. The home is, then, ultimately a family piece, which in a sense returns to the now somewhat disenfranchised idyll of suburban bliss.
The 911-square-metre site sits at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac and overlooks city council parkland. The house stretches out along a raised terrace. A gently sloping grassed area drops off towards a reserve of tall gums and a grassed swale. “Every space in the house has a connection to the garden,” says Bud, adding that the subtropical condition of living outdoors as much as possible was a crucial driver of the design. “There’s no boundary fence, so the yard merges seamlessly with the park.”
On the day of my visit, the family’s three children and a posse of neighbours’ kids are using the spaces as intended – there’s a lot of running through and around the house, from front to back, from side to side and across the street, and cruising down into the park. Ah, this is how childhood play was meant to be: all fairies and pirates and paints and trikes. Since the urban condition has developed more real estate cachet than the suburban, we’ve all but forgotten about the virtues of free and easy roaming. A sense of openness is due not just to the home’s transparency and disappearing walls, but also to the easy circulation routes that further promote engagement with the landscape. “Security wasn’t an issue for my clients,” says Bud. “The opportunity for surveillance was seen as better security than a tall fence.”
The long, linear layout of the single-storey house was tricky to achieve on the site, according to Bud. Living rooms occupy the eastern end of the pavilion, adjacent to the entry, and bedrooms are at the western end, connected by a long corridor. All rooms spill out to the park and enjoy a northerly aspect. A landscaped corridor at the rear is a more intimate, articulated garden of secret discoveries. There is a slightly later addition of a studio and spare room at the western end, connected to the main building by a glazed corridor lined with brush box, which makes the building an L shape. A future pool is planned to abut the living areas, running the length of the pavilion. Pools from the Bailey house and Koenig’s Stahl house (#22) come to mind.
The appearance of a flat roof was achieved through a series of beams and a gable at a minimum pitch. The crisply folded 400-millimetre Zincalume fascia is another key moment in the composition that recalls iconic mid-century forms. Adhering to the principle of zero curves, gutters are rectilinear with concealed drainpipes. It’s all part of the rigour that went into creating a less-is-more simplicity.
The owners participated wholeheartedly in interior detailing. Meticulous research into materials and fixtures and a request for a minimalist palette led to floor-to-ceiling doors with all hardware recessed, as well as large expanses of glass and bare concrete floors.
After spending many years in Tokyo, the owners’ passion for a Japanese aesthetic found expression in the uncluttered interiors with ample storage. The entry sequence takes one past a Japanese-style garden and into a compressed space and “kutsubako,” a special cabinet where shoes are stored. In fact the home’s name, Genkan, refers not only to the eponymous traditional entry area where shoes are removed, but also to the way that every room in the house acts, in a sense, as an entry to the garden. Another Japanese ritual celebrated in the house is the “ofuro” or Japanese bath, which affords bathers a view into the adjacent garden.
The pristine, calm spaces of this house, and the way they use natural light, derive as much from memories of Japan as from Bud’s credentials as a designer of art galleries. They allow for a fine curation of the owners’ extensive collection of paintings, Japanese textiles and prehistoric and antique ceramics.