A series of sculptural spaces weave together to form this highly resolved house by Edwards Moore, which fills its site with dramatic angles that embrace the courtyard gardens.
There’s always a tipping point where a work of architecture transcends simple fulfilment of its brief and steps into another territory altogether. It could happen through a special relationship with the landscape, a poetic resolution of materials with structure or perhaps a dramatic sculpting of light. Whatever the reasons may be, this moment when a project becomes more than just the sum of its parts is what every architect strives for. For the Bow House, the moment arrives with the appreciation of just how hard the architects have worked every surface, every junction and the relationship of each space. There is not a single corner of this modestly scaled home that has not been explored and does not contribute in some way to the thinking of the house as a whole.
Ben Edwards and Juliet Moore, of Edwards Moore Architects, received this commission somewhat unusually – a student completing an internship brought the project to the studio, spent two years working on it and is now moving into the house. Located on a bustling street in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond, the project answers a relatively complex brief, catering for the family’s two adult children and serving as a drop-in for busy restaurateur parents whose establishment is close by, as well as temporary accommodation for an ageing grandparent. Thankfully, having an employee as the client gave Ben and Juliet a direct line to the family’s thinking and allowed the brief to evolve in a much more fluid and intimate manner than architects typically enjoy.
On top of a tricky brief, the site constraints presented further difficulty for the team. On a typically narrow, east–west oriented block and with planning approval for an apartment development to the northern boundary, gaining access to northern light was never a realistic hope. Edwards Moore’s approach was to establish a big wall to the north and celebrate it. In the words of Juliet, “it gives the house a cuddle.” The wall is set at the height of these future apartments and wraps at the east and west double-storey elements. From it, the roof dramatically dips to the south, forming a “V” over the kitchen space and giving the house the bow shape from which it gained its moniker. This gesture brings a swathe of light into the southern courtyard, which in turn bounces light generously back into the house.
Built in rendered Hebel block, the wall anchors the house and provides a counterpoint to the lightweight timber cladding to the south. The rendered finish is also expressed internally, again not denying the boundary element but instead celebrating it. These two materials of rendered block and timber intertwine on the street elevation in a clever diagram of the project, with a subtle diagonal slash referenced from the heights of the adjacent buildings and incorporating the windows of the first-floor bedrooms.
These external materials have then been strategically drawn into the interior to “eliminate internal walls,” as Ben explains. The practice doesn’t design by planning two-dimensionally, applying after-the-fact shaping – instead, the volumes are sculpted in a critical dialogue with the brief and the opportunities of the site. Wherever possible, the external envelope is used to shape and notionally delineate the zones of the house. From the entrance, the service areas are embedded within the north boundary wall, with the laundry and powder room secreted behind sliding panels that slide right back and allow the central corridor to be used as laundry space. Further in, the south timber-clad walls facing the courtyard are drawn into the interior to form the dynamic “V” shape in plan, notionally separating the ground-floor bedroom from the kitchen and the kitchen from the living zone. The lowered roof over the kitchen zone also creates a level of intimacy distinct from the lofty social space of the living area.
The removal of internal walls furthers Edwards Moore’s desire to have spaces connect and be continuous. Gestures such as the sweeping ceilings, the detailed shaping of the joinery (chamfered so as not to terminate as much as lead the eye onward into the next space) and the change in flooring that draws the same dramatic diagonals across the space all contribute to the fluid continuity through each room. The same careful consideration is given to the external spaces. By holding the house back from the southern and eastern boundaries, the garden becomes a continuous element rather than pockets of space. A generous corner window sits under the cantilevered retreat wedged into the point of the roof, dissolving the structure and bringing together the garden and house.
While these descriptions make the spaces sound a little overwhelming, in reality they are composed and subtle. The quiet energy in the highly resolved continuity of line and space buzzes under the surface of the house but never lapses into gimmicky form-making or false gestures.