This unorthodox house in a Melbourne suburb is a bold response to the area’s Mediterranean climate

It’s a wrap: this unorthodox house in a Melbourne suburb is a bold response to the area’s Mediterranean climate

Sutherland Lyall

Young Australian architects traditionally draw first blood with private houses, often remarkably good ones such as this Modernist house by award-winning BKK Architects for a semi-retired couple in posh Melbourne suburb, Toorak. Expensive the area may be, but this is tall poppies home territory and only a few brave people buck the prevailing grim visual suburban tradition of red tile roofs, brick-veneer cladding, and disregard for orientation in this Mediterranean-style climate. The Wrap House is made from rendered block work on a steel portal frame and, unconventionally but correctly, it faces sideways towards the north where the sun can be easily controlled. At first floor, the elevation reads as a series of solid blocks separated by glazing, although the expression does not particularly relate to the arrangement of rooms inside. There has also to be a worry about the big picture windows of the ground floor library and first floor master bedroom which face the street and the fierce afternoon western sun. I suspect they are there for formal reasons to do with the wrap. In fact they have integral sun blinds which will probably mostly be closed in the name of privacy.

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The architects make much of the notion of wrap, an Eisenmanesque proposition about how architecture might well come about from directions other than the customary convenience, orientation, structure and the like. This has its parallels in current arts criticism in which truths are thought to be revealed by analysing parallel human activities. Eisenman produced some sensational designs which didn’t always make a lot of sense if you want to live in them.

Here in Melbourne, it is suggested by BKK that the design comes from a sequence of folds in a carefully cut flat sheet. But, as with cardboard packaging design in which very complicated three-dimensional supports for securely transporting household gadgets are ingeniously cut and folded from flat card, you have to start out with a pretty precise idea about the ultimate form. So too here the plan is too rational in terms of the relationships between rooms and spaces, and the wrap is a largely post hoc thing. It hardly matters, for here is a series of dramatic domestic spaces light-years beyond the imagination of the builders of the surrounding conventional brick-tile mansion-ettes. The clients say, ‘The architects have given us everything we wanted.’ Given the impending antiquity of the clients, anyone might be concerned about the steep approach from street up to the house’s ground floor level. But it was the clients who bought the steeply sloping site, not the architects. In any case, the couple apparently found a disassembled stair lift in the garage of a big beach house they had bought a little earlier. The nicely ironic and yet prosaic finishing touch is the barbecue. Set on the north boundary on a decking platform with a cantilevered shelter over it, it is a single cubic mass, a pristine altar to the outdoor life under a hardwood baldacchino.

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COPYRIGHT 2004 EMAP Architecture

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group