The Brief for this modern house in Hobart, Tasmania, was clear, it had to be seamlessly connected to the outside. This is why the design focuses on five courtyards surrounded by the living spaces, not the other way around.
The request was not purely based on aesthetic principles: the owners are avid gardeners.
Architect Chris Gilbert tells us all about this project and the challenges coming with creating courtyards with the house around.
What made you decide to become an architect?
I ask myself that question quite frequently. I’ve always thought there are better ways to connect to the landscape than what I was seeing around me as I grew up.
Which part/s of a new project excite(s) you the most?
Meditating on the program and the site. Processing the dance that the site and the brief have to 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 emerges gradually. The brief runs through an algorithm in my mind which tweaks each time, as does the imagery of a body in that space . When we talk about the brief, it’s the client’s program, but it’s also their holistic element, and their narrative which has 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 could stay a part of their landscape, a much beloved tree.
What did your clients ask for in their brief?
Response from the client: “I have always wanted to build from scratch. Right from a child I have loved buildings. I have loved toying with the idea with Chris and he has always promised to design me a house, right from when I first met him.
Meeting Richard has added another dimension to the design as we are both so into gardening and believe in sustainability. We have already landscaped the bones of the garden and have the vegie garden up and running.
The house is all about courtyards as rooms with different themes. An ongoing joke has been Chris “allowing” me to have my “naffy” garden as I always have vases of flowers throughout my house.
We are outdoors people and believe there should be a seamless flow between outdoors and indoors”.
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What was the first question you asked yourself when you got the assignment?
How do we make something beautiful in a suburban context which limits our footprint and offers no ‘view’?
What was your approach for the project?
Internalised courtyards overcame challenges of small footprint and no ‘view’, whilst extending the volume and maintaining privacy.
Which is your favourite/most important feature of this house and why?
To me, it’s sitting at the dining table, looking down into the rainforest garden through the low deep window. A series of similar small moments moments elevate the project providing a sense of otherness.
How important was the contribution of your clients, if there was any?
Very important. They are the ones driving the project, and who ultimately have to live within it. Their contribution was ongoing and fluid throughout the process. 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.
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Last but not least, what advice would you give to someone who wants to build a house today?
Focus on the joy of the space and the thermal envelope rather than the aesthetic. Finishes and fittings will change with trends but a beautiful plan a great thermal envelope will be there forever.
Photos by Adam Gibson