An abstraction of the postwar cottage, this addition to a Brisbane hillside house by Owen Architecture is expressed not as a fragment or extrusion but as a hipped-roof whole.
Owen Architecture’s Camp Hill Cottage responds with skill and invention to the adaption of a postwar cottage, abstracting formal, material and organizational logic from the original. The new addition is expressed, not as a fragment or extrusion but rather, as a detached, hipped-roof whole. Its grounding on a Brisbane hillside invites the landscape to contribute to the experience of the architecture, and for a subtropical climate and suburban context to be genuinely embraced.
The contemporary pavilion rejects the overwhelming response by neighbours to extend into the backyard at a level flush with the raised cottage floor. Instead, a staircase is introduced to manage the gentle clamber from old to new. This transition registers underfoot where straight edges of timber treads become the fluid curves of concrete steps. As the man-made concrete terrain descends into the landscape, the lawn swells to meet windowsill and grassed fringes engulf the back steps.
Below the pitched canopy of the new pavilion roof, the four-part plan arranges centrifugally. Interior rooms – kitchen and living – are positioned diagonally opposite and in-between outdoor areas, the courtyard and garden room. A central joinery unit visually separates the kitchen from the living area, however, the onus falls on the ceiling volume to define enclosure in the absence of walls. The visual and physical presence of the garden combined with the dramatic pitch of the ceiling reinforces the ephemeral, tent-like qualities of the pavilion.
The largest of the four rooms, dedicated to the kitchen, is the heart of the home and genesis of the project. For clients Dom and Katrina, the limitations of their original eighty-eight-square-metre postwar cottage was most acutely felt in its inability to allow large groups to gather in the kitchen, collectively prepare food and share meals around a communal table. Outdoors parties were regularly held, but these were at the whim of the weather. The new kitchen, obviously waterproof and generous in footprint, cleverly addresses those limitations, enabling many more scenarios for gathering without being prescriptive about use.
Highly functional and flexible, the kitchen is also undeniably attractive and user-friendly. It invites those who are not cooks to linger, and for the chaotic nature of food preparation to dissolve into something leisurely. The calmness of this space is due in part to the material palette and visual composition, both of which are serene, but mostly because two ends open to the garden and these, along with other smaller apertures, give a reassuring sense of space extending infinitely. The generous window seat, which hovers over the garden on a knife-edge concrete base, secures a place to contemplate domestic bliss and backyard Eden.
The kitchen is the place where detail and craft come to the fore and where the tone is set for material exploration elsewhere. Con-crete and marble contribute the muted greys, which bring depth to white tiles, white-painted timber cabinetry and vast white ceilings. Datum lines are struck so carefully that light and shade become part of the composition. A hint of brass is added to window and door hinges, and to the fine edges and doorhandle of a marble-finished door. The considered balance of tone and composition is delicate and powerful.
While the kitchen establishes the hub and engine room of daily life, the living and garden rooms fashion spaces for sedation. The garden room steps down with the fall of terrain as the timber floor settles and folds to create a bench seat by the window. From here, long views are guided across the lawn as well as up into the house as air movement is controlled via solid shutters. Concrete terraces encircle the room, their rise and fall forming the fireplace hearth, bench seat and climbable edges for young crawlers to explore. A light well inserted at the highest point of the ceiling washes walls with sunlight and illuminates the striated pattern of timber cover strips, which work to reaffirm the outdoor quality of the room.
Looking to the new pavilion from the shade of the back garden, a paradox is revealed. The tall volumes of the interior appear suddenly shrunken by the modest height of the eave. This is a deliberate move, realized through the gentlemanly “tip of the hat” as the hipped roof is tilted down toward the ground. This was orchestrated to manage glare from the sun (and neighbours), but from the long approach, via the easement, this gesture offers a cordial salutation and a warm “welcome home.”
Camp Hill Cottage contributes handsomely to the venerable catalogue of residential architecture realized by Owen Architecture. Alluring in presence and experience, the project muses intensely on the intangible qualities of built space. At the dining table, the window seat, the fireplace and bathtub, togetherness is nurtured and the rhythm of life’s pace is steadied. In these moments of quiet vulnerability the architecture excels.