Air and Rhythm

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Air and Rhythm

Brisbane architects Brit Andresen and Peter O’Gorman string three pavilions along a lush suburban gully to craft a breezy, battened house which resonates with the spirit and history of its site.

Photography Jon Linkins

top Looking south towards the kitchen and dining pavilion. above North elevation of the sleeping pavilion with staircase linking upper and lower bedrooms.

Detail of western screen (Brit Andersen).

Kitchen and window seat in the central pavilion.

Project Description
At Highgate Hill, a Brisbane suburb, Brit Andresen and Peter O’Gorman have built a new house on the west-facing slope of a steep bush site in a north-south gully which terminates at the Brisbane River. Their design responds to mature trees to the north and west of the site (which interrrupt and define outlooks), a three metre stormwater drain running along the gully floor, and a desire to emphasise the gully as a visual link between the hill and the river.
The outcome is three pavilions linked by elevated breezeways and open decks which allow north light into key rooms. The north pavilion has a main bedroom, a studio and a bathroom on the lower level, with two children’s bedrooms and a bathroom above. The central pavilion has a laundry and studio beneath the dining room and kitchen. The south pavilion (single level) incorporates the elevated living area.
This arrangement is bound together on the west side by a long screen of eucalypt battens of different thicknesses—composed in a syncopated, harmonic pattern to selectively mask and reveal views of a significant camphor laurel tree across the gully, the site’s bush, glimpses of sky above the trees and scenery ‘borrowed’ from adjacent properties. Between this screen and the house, a balcony “mediates between enclosure and landscape”. The east elevation (uphill) is a blind wall intended to screen the house from nearby residences in a more suburban context.

Architects’ Note by Peter O’Gorman and Brit Andresen
The landscape screen reinstates the edge of the gully, both as a defined volume and at the scale of the landscape, as well as masking the domestic scale of elements of the house behind. This timber framework, made from Australian eucalyptus, supports vertical battens and some finer climbing frames for vine growth. It is envisaged as a superscale planting screen which permits the selective eroosion of the room enclosures, introduces filtered light through floor-to-ceiling glazing and re-establishes and underscores the qualities of the gully. This woven wall also helps to blur the familiar dimensions of a two-storey house, establish the relationship with the landscape as the major reference and provide another layer of transparency and enclosure beyond the rooms. The glazed pavilions become simultaneously open and protected.

Comment by John Mainwaring
On an evening visit to the latest house by Brit Andresen and Peter O’Gorman, in the old Brisbane inner suburb of Highgate Hill, I thought back to this district’s childhood gangs, grand timber homes, lush sub-tropical growth and multitude of possums and fruit bats. Hidden in these vast, light-dappled backyards, littered with rotting mangoes, were cubby houses, trails and tracks, bits of billycarts and pirates’ treasure. At night the old timber houses, embellished with intricately battened verandahs, glowed like galleons; beaming luminous strips of light across fireflies flickering in the moonlight. On my last glass of red with the architects, catalysed by their reference to William Blake, the words “tiger, tiger, burning bright” were echoing through my mind.
The Andresen/O’Gorman house feels like it’s there, but not there, in this magic yet mysterious fragment of old, overgrown property … an environment which conjures thoughts of slatted ferneries and memories of Brisbane’s now-extinct suburban nurseries, with their translucent hessian walls and roofs.
In the project builder mentality, the plan would have been to visually ‘dam’ the stormwater gully to greedily exploit its limited river views. Instead, the house sensitively acknowledges the linear dynamics of the gully—its floor, banks and tree canopy overshadowing the roof.
On the ‘mute’ (higher) side of the site, a long ‘hard’ wall gives privacy from the neighbours, while other walls and roofs provide varying degrees of lantern-like transparency, absorbing natural light through the heavy canopy. For the entrance facade on the lower side of the slope, a ‘soft’ wall reconstructs the side of the gully with a timber curtain that will eventually merge into the landscape, engulfed by vines, ground covers and creepers.
While this timber trellis gives security, a pleasant surprise is that part of the slatted wall slips away like an outdoor proscenium, revealing the entrance deck as a stage with the gully as an auditorium.
The spatial drag along the gully directed the linear composition of three pavilions connected by transitional spaces and ‘grey’ areas similar to the Japanese principle of ‘engawa’ (transactional layers of space between a house and garden). Both plan and section are subtly articulated, re-establishing the floor of the gully. The lowest pavilion is a cave-like sitting room, with a slight level-drop capturing views of the river. Sitting between this and the highest (bedroom) pavilion lie the kitchen and family spaces, in a container like a bower or tree house.
The architects experimented with a number of modules for the single-skin construction, eventually settling for a 1600 mm structural grid with timber studs at 400 mm centres, similar to the 18 inch centres of traditional building. Panels with varying degrees of transparency—including plywood, white polygal and glass— have been placed in particular locations and are joined with lead strips in a horizontal pattern derived from the Fibonacci series—which, as Andresen says, “gives a further link to the spirit of the site”.
The substructure is post-and-beam with a ply truss and timber rafters springing off a central beam spine. Due to the abundance of site shade, the roof plane is slightly split to allow a clerestory to take advantage of clear glimpses to the sky. Structural rhythm is broken by the ‘scrambled jazz’ of the battening, which varies in frequency from narrow spacing to totally clear, particularly where camphor laurel fronds act as the screen.
The abstraction and contradictions of the traditional timber Queenslander were seriously debated by Australian-born O’Gorman and his Norwegian wife, Andresen, who amicably agree to disagree about the philosophical fundamentals. O’Gorman is fascinated by the abstraction of the verandah while the pantheist Andresen is fiercely opposed to the dominance of European architecture over site and the way it beats the landscape into submission. Both views have reinforced each other in the result of this project.
Pacific rim architecture, ranging from Schindler’s nuanced modernism to traditional Asian treatments of space and form, is now attracting global recognition. In this case, the clients had lived in Bali and no doubt encouraged the architects’ Asian-inspired delicacies and transparencies.
At the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Brit Andresen and Peter O’Gorman have taught many of the graduates passing through our office in Noosa—indeed, I was one of Peter’s first students back in the late 1960s. Their contribution to the evolution of the Queensland house will be even greater now that he has resigned from teaching to focus on the practice full-time.
John Mainwaring is a Noosa architect who is working for the Brisbane City Council in a team designing improvments to the Queen Street Mall.

Highgate Hill House, Brisbane
Architects Brit Andresen and Peter O’Gorman. Structural Engineer John Batterham. Contractor Lon Murphy.


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Last modified: 4-Oct-98.



Published online: 1 Sep 1998


Architecture Australia, September 1998

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