To meander down a garden path is to engage in an experience shaped by the hour and the season. Walking the same pathway again and again, one becomes acquainted with each bend and blade of grass. Along the way, such familiar landmarks serve to ground and orient, even as glimpses of what lies ahead or changes in light, vegetation and climate pique a sense of anticipation. Architecture Architecture’s clients sought a home evocative of this experience – redolent of their childhoods in rural New Zealand and South Australia – within the urban context of Brunswick. Imbued with memory and personal significance yet without sentimentality or artifice, Arcadia explores the idea of home at its most poignant.
In inner-city Melbourne, expanses of sky and landscape, regular weather patterns and geographical landmarks are conspicuously lacking. However, the clients found that if they looked a little harder – standing on tiptoes to take in the views over Brunswick rooftops or stopping to watch the evening light against a neighbouring chimney – they could find connections to the vast rural landscapes of their respective former lives in rural New Zealand and South Australia. It was this observation that led to a brief focused on feeling, with little emphasis on prescriptive functions or features. “Our clients talked at length about the nature of the landscapes in the places where they grew up and the impact that had upon them,” says Michael Roper, Director of Architecture Architecture. “There was a certain longing for that sense of expanse of landscape and talks early on about the house being like a garden path – as you move through it, views shift, materials change, qualities of light change, and you get these views that help orient you, ground you, locate you in a place.”
The emotional honesty of these recollections guided the design of a home whose dynamic is open and connected while gently embracing the requisite activities of daily life. Moving through Arcadia, even moments of pause allude to something beyond. The original double-fronted Victorian weatherboard has been carved into, opening the building to allow glimpses of the surrounding roofs and treetops, whilst also creating a courtyard within the existing footprint and offering generous circulation that facilitates views through to adjacent spaces. “We were very conscious that this house should take in the charming roofscape that sprawls out around this part of the city,” Michael explains. As these outward views capture a sense of openness reminiscent of the swathes of landscape views afforded in a rural context, lines of sight through courtyards and between spaces create a progressive awareness of the entirety of both the home and its site.
There are two ways to enter the house – through the original front entry or via a side gate that opens onto the courtyard set into the body of the original house. Both paths into the home converge at a foyer-like space with skylight overhead, where the original passageway widens to encompass a substantial cast concrete bench to one side and a study nook tucked in the other. Beyond, the view extends all the way through to the dining space next to the kitchen and, at a slight angle, on to the internal garden that marks the threshold into the living space. If the door to the garage is open, the living room view extends out into this traditionally separate space; if the garage door is also open, the view continues further still, out into the laneway. “You can actually get a view that skewers all the way through from the front door to the lane, but it’s not in a straight line,” Michael describes. “As you look down that corridor it has layers; there’s a layering of various conditions from corridor to seating, to bags and coats, to table, to internal garden and beyond. So, it’s not like you’re just looking straight down the gun barrel. It is that garden path that our clients wrote about and that we sought to design to.”
Moving through Arcadia, even moments of pause allude to something beyond.
Each of these connected spaces takes in the various qualities of light from morning to evening, which adds further depth to the experience of inhabiting the home. “We wanted to mark the passage of the day with that changing light,” Michael says. Some sources of natural light are more direct and others more muted. Three skylights bring soft light from overhead, grazing down walls such that the morning and evening light, in turn, emphatically change the qualities of the spaces. “You really find from the beginning to the end of the day you’re getting really markedly different qualities of light,” he adds. “Some of the skylights catch the light of the rising sun, some the warmth of the setting sun. So where one might seem cool and shadowy in the morning, it’s glowing red in the evening.”
This emphasis on light and the arrangement of the spaces, connected as they are to each other and to both internal and external courtyards, create a feeling of being set within the landscape. Sitting in the living space, the entire north wall retracts to diffuse the border between inside and out. Sky, rooftops and chimney pots are glimpsed beyond, while loose plantings by Amanda Oliver Gardens gently encroach onto the paving. To one end, the internal fernery further cocoons the interior in vegetation. To the other, the columnar concrete fireplace is softly lit from above by a skylight. Standing at the kitchen sink, a framed view over the wild, rambling garden bed and down the full length of the courtyard engenders a sense of space unusual to the urban setting. Eating at the dining table, too, is an experience immersed in the garden, with the fernery immediately adjacent and openings to the courtyards on either side.
We wanted to mark the passage of the day with that changing light,” Michael says.
Materiality has an important role to play here. The stone paving underfoot stretching from inside out into the courtyard, becoming actual stepping stones that one must use to cross through the fernery and into the living space; brick walls painted an unexpected nurturing shade of pink; the solid cast concrete elements; the warming timber; the robust galvanised steel – all are materials chosen for their inherent qualities, their ability to patina and for their resonance with a rural vernacular. “Primarily, the material palette was driven by our clients’ interest in materials that will age and have a tactility to them,” Michael says. No material distinction is made between interior and exterior, in deference to the idea of the home as a garden path. Yet time will eventually do its part to illustrate its passing and so etch a subtle difference between the materials protected indoors and those left to weather outside, Michael reflects. Timbers will grey off and the pigmented render wear down, maybe even away in parts over time to reveal the rough recycled cream brick underneath.
The materiality of the addition clearly demarcates the new from the original weatherboard home. However, observing the many structures that have accumulated along the laneway, a synchronicity between new building and its immediate context becomes felt. The garages, sheds and other outbuildings typical of this area, and others like it, tend to be made of brick, with galvanised steel roofing. By breaking down the mass of the double-storey addition into several articulated volumes, the new building is scaled to sit comfortably in its laneway milieu. “This kind of organic accretion is hard to emulate, but one can be conscious of it and respond to it,” reflects Michael. Arcadia may be a thoroughly contemporary architecture that takes memories of places far removed in distance and nature as its main point of reference, but it is also a building designed to embed its inhabitants in the city they have chosen to make their home.
As a world that speaks to personal histories, shared longings and present needs, the project takes its inhabitants on a journey that is as much emotional as it is architectural.
As a world that speaks to personal histories, shared longings and present needs, the project takes its inhabitants on a journey that is as much emotional as it is architectural. The result is a building that reveals something latent about its environment – discovering space, views, diurnal rhythms and landscape where seemingly there were none. A garden path in all but name.