A cleverly orchestrated sequence creates a division between the public and private spaces in this new home, with a set of integrated garden pockets catering to various family activities.
Queensland’s domestic vernacular traditions offer rich spatial and tectonic qualities that lend themselves to adaptation, abstraction and interpretation. In the Rosalie House, Paul Owen and Michael Lineburg of Owen Architecture examine these traditions, drawing on an understanding of Brisbane’s suburban condition honed through twelve years of shared conversation as part of Owen and Vokes and Peters (now two separate entities: Owen Architecture and Vokes and Peters).
An interwar brick and tile house previously occupied the centre of the upper side of the site, and a garden wall retained a lower flat terrace for a tennis court to the east. The organization strategy of the new house inverts the original arrangement; the house wraps around the site boundary to provide a sense of containment for the garden. An orchestrated sequence creates a series of thresholds that separate the communal spaces for friends and the intimate spaces for family. The original retaining wall provided a key set-out point for the house; a long entry portico follows this line, forming a screen that delineates the site into two contrasting topographies of sloped meadow and open field.
The house’s battleaxe block is perched on the hill behind the local shopping strip, and the foreground of neighbouring refrigeration condensers contrasts with distant views across the suburb of the hilltop church to the north. Entry to the house is deep in the middle of the site, up a long driveway flanked by carports along the northern edge. To the south a meadow with a grove of six crepe myrtle trees screens the bedroom wing, which nestles into high ground at the rear of the site. A glazed corridor allows distant views, highlighting the contrast between the internal, private world of the family and the civic realm of the suburb beyond. At the end of the driveway the entry portico creates a screen that directs movement in two directions: to the right along a colonnade to the interior, or to the left toward a gateway directly into the open field of the front lawn.
The kitchen pavilion is placed to the south of the centre line of the former tennis court, creating a pair of formalized gardens that extend the modest living spaces from inside to out. A small kitchen garden to the south connects directly to the children’s playroom, while the front lawn to the north extends to the open-air fireplace and swimming pool at the end of the garden. This space doubles as a playing field for footy and cricket, with the portico screen to the west acting as both shaded bleachers and a sight screen to direct vistas along the length of the garden toward the view across the suburb. The linearity of the garden is reinforced by a pair of trumpet trees, one to the front and one to the rear of the kitchen pavilion, and the curved swimming pool fence underscores the geometric formality of these spaces.
Tectonically, the Rosalie House diverges from Queensland’s historic timber and tin tradition, which was extended in past projects by Owen and Vokes and Peters. It embraces contemporary construction techniques more akin to speculative housing: concrete slab on ground, rendered concrete blocks and concrete roof tiles, but in a manner that merges the prosaic with the particular. The structural concrete slab was patched and painted in grey gloss, which continues up the wall to form a dado line that gauges the fall of the site. The dado starts as a 300-millimetre skirting in the study and main bedroom, but this horizontal line rises to eye level as the floor steps down to the main living spaces. The kitchen pavilion has a separate dado, which is 1,800 millimetres lower, and the misalignment between these two lines can be read in the entry hall. This emphasizes the contrast between the bedrooms, which are embedded into the landscape, and the kitchen pavilion, floating on flat open field between the two lawns.
The contrast of the prosaic and the particular continues throughout the home. Concrete block walls are finished with twelve-millimetre sand-and-cement render, creating a less precise finish than conventional polymer render. The concrete roof tiles are recycled, partly from the original house. Refractory bricks, traditionally used for the inside of fireplaces, are used for both lining and facing of the internal and external hearths. Rough-sawn hardwood clads the portico screen; the imperfection of this material will increase with age, accentuating the shadows on the east-facing wall. In contrast to these everyday materials, Carrara marble provides a focus for the kitchen; jointed tiles clad the outside edge of the pantry and solid marble is used for benches.
The house is capped by two simple gable tiled roofs, one wrapping around the bedrooms and the other sheltering the kitchen pavilion. A flat concrete roof separates the two and forms a lower ceiling over the living room, which is nestled on a higher level between the front entry and the bedrooms. This space becomes a secret lookout at the heart of the house, with vistas of the rear garden to the south, through the kitchen pavilion to the east, to the bedrooms at the west, and to the crepe myrtle meadow and forecourt via the low eaves to the north.
The Rosalie House is both domestic and civic, evoking associations with Queensland domestic traditions and more formalized typologies. It presents delightful contradictions: the entry screen as lichgate or portico, the front lawn as agora or playing field, the long and winding bedroom corridor as a colonnade around a courtyard or a racetrack for tricycles. The subtly beautiful architecture creates a sanctuary that is simultaneously cloistered yet welcoming, private yet communal, in a manner that feels both monastic and domestic. This is a perfect backdrop for family life that is generous yet modest, simultaneously intimate and communal, sheltered and connected.