In an urban context, connection between the land, people, and the buildings they inhabit is often lost. Edgars Creek House by Breathe Architecture is a rare example of a home whose design offers a reconnection with the essential qualities of a landscape almost entirely superseded by the encroaching built environment.
Perched on the banks of Edgars Creek, in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Coburg North, the site overlooks sandstone cliffs and banks of native ironbark trees. Inspired by this rare pocket of bushland amongst the city, the house “is about the country and the landscape in which it exists,” says project architect Madeline Sewall. “It offers a way to live as part of that system rather than trying to preside over it.” The client’s vision for “raw and simple place to dwell, nestled into the landscape,” resonated with the architects, who, after visiting the site with the client and coming to understand his connection to the natural world, “knew this was a project we wanted to be a part of,” Madeline recalls.
The resulting home is primal and elemental – a building that, in coexisting with the natural environment, amplifies the experience of it, and supports the client’s prioritisation of sustainability in every aspect of his life. In response to the steeply sloping site, the house is broken down into three pavilions that step down along the contour of the land, carefully preserving the existing mature gum trees. “Rather than looking at how we could make the site fit around a house, we looked at how the house could fit organically into the site,” explains Madeline. The primary outlook over the creek is to the west, so the design sought to open the house to this direction while providing shading and ventilation to ensure thermal comfort without the need for mechanical cooling.
“Rather than looking at how we could make the site fit around a house, we looked at how the house could fit organically into the site.”
“This is where the idea of the brise soleil originated,” says Madeline. “The brise soleil became the open-air spine of the house which other spaces could branch off of.” From this spine, the three pavilions emanate – one for sleeping, one for bathing, one for living. Centred around a courtyard, the surrounding landscape and the built form layer and intersect, with the pavilions framing the view through a stand of tall ironbark trees to the west and onto the meandering creek beyond. Each pavilion is connected to the land, to the view, and to the creek. Circulation between each space offers the inhabitants the opportunity to interface with the site, the weather, and the landscape beyond. “Dwelling in this home means truly connecting with nature, not just through framed views but through touch, smell and feel,” Madeline says.
A humble, natural material palette emphasises this connection. “The house isn’t about ego or architecture, but rather shelter and sanctuary. It is intended to provide a peaceful retreat that is textural, simple and honest,” Madeline explains. Accordingly, the simplicity of the materiality allows the building to visually recede amongst the bush, giving precedence to the natural over the built form and, in doing so, serving as a reminder of the bush that would once have grown where now only city streets exist. Sitting amongst grey ironbark trees, the pavilions are themselves clad in raw ironbark timber, while a rammed earth wall, which shields the south of the house and contributes substantial thermal mass, talks to the sandstone cliffs of the creek below. “Upon approach, the house reflects the materials of its surroundings, blending into the landscape,” Madeline says.
“Once inside, the home winds and steps through a series of spaces – both indoor and outdoor, light and dark – all clad with raw, natural materials,” she continues. Instead of tiles, the wet areas are lined in Australian ironbark decking, and tapware is crafted from raw brass and custom bent copper pipe. The kitchen continues this approach, with messmate timber benchtops and a steel and brass splashback. Underfoot, recycled Tasmanian oak flooring is warm and comforting, until a shift to textural grey stone flooring marks the transition to the sunken living area.
This layered materiality evokes the subtle shifting hues and textures of the natural world. Where an overuse of one particular material would be more akin to an ecological monoculture, lacking healthy biodiversity, the material palette, though restrained, brings together timber, stone, earth and metal in a combination that speaks to the characteristics of the land outside. A careful and considered approach to natural light, meanwhile, brings dappled light into the home, reminiscent of the light softly filtered through the leaves of the treetops onto the earth below. The grey ironbark brise soleil, sheltering the interior from the hot westerly sun, means that “the quality of light within this space changes constantly with the seasons and the weather, providing a constant grounding connection for the residents with the landscape,” Madeline says.