The Arthur Street House in Melbourne was designed by Archier Architects for Matt and Nicola, friends of Archier’s Design Director, Chris Gilbert. What began as an imaginative conversation between the three friends many years earlier, the Arthur Street House as it stands today is an unpretentious, timeless and honest house, with thoughtful use of materials and space. We caught up with Gilbert to discuss its inception, process, and the benefits of a collaborative approach to architecture.
What made you decide to become an architect?
I ask myself that question quite frequently. I’ve always thought there were better ways to connect with the landscape than by what I was seeing around me as I grew up.
Which part/s of a new project excite(s) you the most?
For me, it’s analysing the dance that the site and the brief must do together, and watching that emerge in my mind. The site is more than a piece of landscape, it talks to us and tells us what it wants to be, and that gradually emerges over time. When we talk about the brief, it’s the client’s programme, but it’s also the holistic element and narrative which we have to weave as a subtext through that.
Can you tell us a bit about the story of this house and its owners?
The client originally owned the cottage next door, and jumped at the opportunity to purchase the block when it arose. Her sons had grown up playing with the elderly residents of that block and it felt right. The giant Blue Gum on the fence line would stay a part of their landscape, a much beloved tree.
What were your clients wishes?
The client said: “I have always wanted to build something from scratch as I have loved buildings since I was a child. Chris had promised to design me a house from the moment we met. Meeting Richard added another dimension to the design, as we are both so into gardening and sustainability.
We have already landscaped the bones of the garden and the veggie garden is up and running. There will be a mini orchard down the track where I’ll be able to bottle fruit and make jam etc, and the butler’s kitchen comes from my wanting a big display of my own produce. My nan used to pickle, but she would never teach me. I decided I wanted to copy her as it always felt so good to be surrounded by her efforts.
An ongoing joke between myself and Chris is his ‘allowing’ me to have my ‘naffy’ garden as I always have flowers filling my house. We are outdoors people and believe there should be a seamless flow between outdoors and indoors”.
What was the first question you asked yourself when you got the assignment?
How do we make something beautiful in a suburban context which reduces our footprint and offers no ‘view’?
Which is your favourite/most important feature of this house and why?
For me, it’s sitting at the dining table, looking into the rainforest garden through the low window.
How important is the contribution of your clients?
Very important. They are the ones driving the project, and who ultimately have to live in it. They were living next door during the build so they were always available to touch base with us and consult with from beginning to end.
What materials have you used and why?
The construction methodology developed into a high performing SIPS (Structurally Insulated Panel System). Archier proposed SIPS as it is a highly efficient product that provides structural, insulative and aesthetic solutions in one.
The panels were manufactured in Canada after being 3D modelled. This resulted in little to no wastage on site and a rapid installation time. The lightweight nature of the panels allows them to be handled and installed by hand.
Full walls of double glazing and a restrained materials palette strengthens the connection between inside and out, improving the sense of space without the need of formal structures.
The high thermal performance of the building creates a pleasant environment in the depths of winter. The interspersed courtyards and highly operable glazing cool the spaces with natural ventilation in summer.
The raw, textured finish of the SIPS panels are expressed to reveal the material quality of the building in a cost effective manner. Topped with matt black paint, the varied nature of the Oriented Strand Board (OSB) expresses a deeper grain and richness upon closer inspection.
The robustness and texture of the structural frame is continued in the use of recycled Tasmanian Oak timber for the wall lining, creating a patchwork effect that adds character to the internal finish of the house. Timber throughout the house is finished with Osmo Oil Polyx Matt so to maintain its colour and texture.
The central core serves as a transitional threshold between public and private spaces, in addition to housing key services. Low-profile Kliplok roof sheeting in conjunction with SIPS roof panels reduced the overall building height, allowing for single lengths of Scyon Axon cladding externally.
The kitchen was designed and made by Archier from Vic Ash and 5mm laser cut stainless steel. Archier also manufactured the brass Highline pendant lights used in the kitchen, bedroom and library.
Last but not least, what advice would you give to someone who wants to build a house today?
Focus on the joy and the thermal envelope of the space rather than the aesthetic. Finishes and fittings will change with trends but a beautiful plan and a great thermal envelope will be there forever.
Photos via Ben Hosking