Text by Nielsen Jenkins
This project is the restoration and renovation of a 1971 Californian Modernist style house by Brisbane architect Gavin Litfin. Both the clients and architects were keen to treat this project as a heritage exercise, using small, subtle interventions to increase connectivity to the surrounding environment and make it perform better for the new owners and the way that they live.
Bardon House occupies a ridge-top site in the leafy suburb of Bardon at the foothills of Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane. It was constructed in 1971 and was realised by local architect, Gavin Litfin, between his Masters Degree in City Planning (UQ) and his Research Masters in Environmental Design (YALE). Conceived in the spirit of regional modernism, it remained a treasured family home until its sale in 2014.
The flat, low-slung roof appears to sail over the orange masonry garden walls, which are the first suggestion of the building’s predilection for modernist architecture. Beyond these, an intimate garden courtyard and pool promote a relationship between indoor and outdoor space, echoing the sensibilities made famous by seminal modernist architects like Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra.
An orthogonal plan with exposed roof beams, floor to ceiling openings and the extensive use of glass further strengthens its architectural pedigree and, importantly, allows the building to exploit its setting by framing views of the surrounds and encouraging the natural flow of breeze and sunlight.
One of the most striking things about the design of the original house is the simplicity and rigour with which the planning diagram is realised. Taking its cues from splayed site boundaries, two building wings, one long and one short, meet to create a ‘Y’-shaped plan.
The journey to the narrow end of the ‘Y’ coincides with the moment the site falls steeply below foot – a clearing opens in bushland and frames, behind glass, an astonishing view across the neighbourhood to the horizon and city skyline in the east. An equal and opposite condition is experienced at the intersection of the ‘Y’, where gaze is thrown toward the west, revealing the unmistakable silhouette of Mt Coot-tha.
The renovation work by Nielsen Jenkins consists of a series of small interventions which re-orient the occupant within the original plan and heighten the visual and environmental connections through it.
The renovations consist of: a new entry courtyard for privacy and security; the insertion of a new study space; the re-orientation of the lounge space in to the main courtyard; the re-modelling of the kitchen; a new window over the stair for increased connection through the plan that was in the original plans but never built; the demolition of an ironing room to allow for a fireplace and reading snug; the renovation and re-orientation of the master bedroom suite to put the bed towards the view; a new, lowered deck structure that allows city views from deep in the plan; & the renovation of the downstairs storerooms in to new bedroom, bathing and laundry spaces.
In Brisbane – and Australia in general – this period of architecture is often overlooked within heritage discussions and subject to easy demolition. Although appearing simple from the street, the building works very hard to connect with its environment in subtle, considered and surprising ways. The simple and elegant diagram of the plan and the restrained and beautiful construction assembly makes it a fine example of Modernist architecture within its sub-tropical context.
Photos by Shantanu Starick