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Out beyond Hoddle’s grid, an alien object has landed in suburban Melbourne. Composed of skewed arcs, this new residence by Ivan Rijavec reveals his latest visions of "vulvate geometries" to twitch the neurons of archi-voyeurs.

top Looking north-east. At left is a glazed entry and a second bedroom with balcony. above Looking east.

Pergola and back door to the barbeque area.

The kitchen is treated as a central island on the first floor.

More photos can be found
in the version!

Photography John Gollings Review Peter Zellner

Second Nature
Heading out of the inner city towards Melbourne’s endlessly sprawling eastern suburbs, one quickly grasps why the Victorian capital’s urban pattern has so often been likened to a doughnut figure or a series of exponentially expanding suburban rings. Despite the rectilinear force of Hoddle’s grid and promise of vectoral growth suggested by the city’s grand boulevards, the city has grown in eccentric (not circular) loops. The planners’ diagram of Melbourne’s growth looks something like a section through a tree trunk. At the heart of this trunk, dense, old-growth suburbs like Fitzroy and Collingwood jostle for space and press hard up against one another while across the Yarra more affluent suburbs like Kew and Hawthorn tentatively spread away from each other; perhaps reaching out for more air, more light. On the edges of the city, mid-to-late century fast-growth suburbs like Doncaster, Box Hill and Templestowe roll out over the landscape with little regard for space conservation. Here the old city’s dense patterns seem to melt and then thinly dissolve or dissipate over the landscape.

Overscaled estate developments retrace the landscape- reconfiguring the original rolling topography into built form. In these suburbs, the boundaries between natural and man-made topographies are at their blurriest. We might read these fresh layers of skin-urbanity as a second nature: an elevated, red clay roof-tiled second skin. In this context, architect Ivan Rijavec has crafted his latest project-a vessel/house that he has suggested is an elaborate and highly formalised critique of the suburban vernacular.

Beam Me Down
Rijavec’s Alessio residence touches down in a small valley of surreal brickness seemingly drawn, postcard-like, from one of Howard Arkley’s numerous meditations on the Melbourne suburban condition. This family house hovers over its context like one of the mother ships in ID4: alien, looming, indifferent and extrinsic. Composed of two prow-like forms separated by a glazed curtain wall and joined at the ‘hip’ by a squashed and distorted box, the house appears thoroughly unfamiliar in the midst of its otherwise staid, well-heeled and comfortable surroundings. Rijavec’s spaceship/ark/dwelling has been carefully manoeuvred and then set down on the site’s inclined geography so that views from and towards the residence are advantaged. The project’s hill-hugging orientation allows vistas along the easement drainage to the south, placing the house on a sort of podium or stage. Indeed, if the residence could be said to be in discourse with its context, then this discussion is certainly a soliloquy; its siting causing the residence to be read as both performer and audience.

Internally, the residence conforms to a logic that feels at times intentionally ambiguous or slightly nebulous. Two separate glazed entries on the pod-like ground floor open onto two red and lavender staircases that lead to either end of the living/kitchen area on the first floor. An overscaled circulation space swings off the kitchen area and directs movement either into the bedrooms or through a family space and out onto a timber-canopied, skateboard ramp-like, concreted barbecue area. Swirling around the turquoise crescent-shaped kitchen unit and the shiny green, black and white switchback benchtop are a series of punched-out sculptural skylights highlighted in citrus colours. These skylights are intended not so much to give light to the interior as to lend, according to the architect, a somewhat humorous, indeed comical, hue to the house.

Externally, the reading of the project as the exotic other in the ordinary suburb is heightened by the graphic skin treatment Rijavec has selected for the house. Like the barely legible runic glyphs found on the shells of the alien ships in ID4, the bone, blue-grey and russet hard-rendered super-graphic he has meticulously applied to the house is a form of dissimulation or a formalised camouflage. The graphic neither corresponds directly to the project’s typology nor to its internal organisation. One initially reads the residence less as a dwelling than as a sculptural urban object of an undefined or yet to be defined usage. More sardonically, Rijavec’s graphic appliqué refuses to address to the immediate surrounds, either physically or culturally.

Any allusion to locality or cultural context-if these conditions are understood to be derived from a sense of comfort, familiarity or nostalgia-is not merely abandoned but rather emptied from the project’s enigmatic marking. Instead, this emblematic graphic seems to refer more specifically to a personal, hermetic language that denies immediate "apprehension" and purposefully seeks to undermine an easy read of the designer’s intentions. Window slots strategically frame up or screen out specific views of the surroundings and, like the openings in a medieval war mask, suggest that the camouflage applied to the house’s bent facades are indeed a form of disguise-part of an elaborate urban masquerade.

According to the architect, the geometries explored in the design are neither wilful nor arbitrary but the logical outcome of a series of accurate geometric projections. Using the computer to generate an exacting result, Rijavec has plotted out a "tangled multitude of variable curves" over the site. By manipulating this complex series of layered arcs into place, Rijavec then began to derive the house’s ark forms from the variable points of curvature overlap. Eventually the tangled layers of overlaid arcs were systematically ‘turned off’, leaving only the seams of larger wholes/holes initially projected over the site. What results is, in Rijavec’ s estimation, a continuous warped or baroque irrational geometry that induces a "neural tickle."

Hyper Drive
In the Alessio residence, Rijavec seems to have condensed many of the tendencies and fixations found in his previous projects. His early interest in the possibilities of an overlapping graphic/spatial composition- as pioneered by the likes of Gerrit Rietveld and Konstantin Malevich-and his more recent explorations of what he has termed "vulvate geometries" are accelerated and brought into a hyper-proximity in this project.

By literally shrink-wrapping the articulated ark forms of the house in a continuously banded super-graphic, Rijavec has successfully arrived at a significant intensification of mode and outcome. Although he has suggested that the residence’s intricate and painstakingly refined composition argues for a critical response to the suburban context, one senses that this project can only orbit-satellite-like- over the domestic terrain it seeks to penetrate and ultimately reform.

Peter Zellner, an RMIT BArch graduate, is editing a book on architecture around the Pacific Rim. His own work is to be exhibited at the 8th Triennal of Architecture in Sofia.

Alessio House, Templestowe, Victoria
Architect Rijavec Architects- project team Ivan Rijavec, Emma Young, Kris Treagus. Builder Curtis Construction. Structural Engineers Demelis Felicetti-Peter Felicetti, Peter Surna. Clients Gianna Zinni, Massimo Alessio.



Published online: 1 Jul 1997


Architecture Australia, July 1997

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