Architecture, Memory & Identity – Scandizzo House by Kennon+
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Scandizzo House by Kennon+ reflects architect Pete Kennon’s exploration of the relationship between architecture, memory and identity, and how, throughout life, one’s sense of self and sense of places of personal significance become indelibly linked.
“The Scandizzo house is a direct architectural response to its owners. It encapsulates the identities of the clients Joey and Jane Scandizzo whilst also providing a place where their three young boys can grow up and form an identity of their own as part of a young, fun and loving family,” says Pete. “This is the primary outcome of the house, and the most rewarding.” Kennon+ was introduced to the clients by the builder, Duobuilt, and their first meeting over dinner at the site set the precedent for the close collaboration that would evolve over the years between that initial meeting and the home’s completion.
“The brief wasn’t necessarily initially documented, it was extracted through conversation,” Pete explains. “The design process was collaborative every step of the way. Initially, we would catch up every couple of weeks over dinner, and I’d bring updates to the house concept and drawings.
“The Scandizzo house is a direct architectural response to its owners.”
We’d talk about the spaces, the details and the materials. It was a generative way of working where we found comfort in the direction and in each other.” This reflects the fact that Pete’s process of design is first and foremost about people. “Why are we building the house? What are the reasons for it, and what does it mean to them? It’s important to speak candidly about the purpose of the project and listen carefully to the client’s response,” he reflects. “I don’t like designing anything without knowing the purpose.”
As the first build for the clients, the project represented a significant milestone in the family’s life and the decades of hard work and planning that had brought them to this point. It was driven by a sense of putting down roots and building a supportive foundation that would become the centre of their lives as a family. In this way, the Scandizzo House recognises their shared past while gesturing toward the future. It is a place that, as the childhood home of the family’s three boys, will come to hold special significance for each of them as they grow up. For Pete, this unique quality of architecture, by which a physical form becomes far greater than the sum of its parts through the emotional connections and experiences it facilitates, is of particular interest. His thesis titled ‘The Senses of Place’ and now his ongoing architectural theory both focus on exploring architecture in these terms.
Scandizzo House by Kennon+ reflects architect Pete Kennon’s exploration of the relationship between architecture, memory and identity.
Pete explains that, inspired by his connection to his own childhood home in rural Victoria, he was interested in questions of “how we navigate places through our senses, the relationship between the human body and the built environment, and why we perceive architecture as a physical object, yet remember architecture as an experience. Often, the greater the experience, the more memorable it is. So, how do we as architects’ control and design for that?” Exploring the concepts of home and memory, particularly the way childhood plays a pivotal role in how we first come to feel the effect of architecture, he says “I became enthralled by the physical and also the psychological effects spaces could have on us.”
With its archetypal gable forms and the materiality of in-situ cast concrete, the Scandizzo House generates a sense of strength and stability that is complemented by the heritage façade of the original Victorian home. “With every project I like to find a singular material and then develop it from there. The choice of material is responsive to the way the building is intended to feel,” Pete says. The use of the concrete is thus layered with meaning – not only does it contribute a robust quality that speaks to ideas of permanence and stability, but it is simultaneously raw and organic in its materiality, and can convey heaviness and lightness at the same time, Pete explains. “In-situ concrete felt like the best material that could be contemporary while also solid and everlasting. It’s also very a recognisable material for Australians, such as Joey, with Italian heritage. There’s an element of nostalgia to it,” he says.
Scandizzo House recognises a shared past while gesturing toward the future.
The palette throughout the home takes its cues from coolness and tonal softness of the concrete. “With an off-white colouration, we proceeded with an idea of white-on-white and monotone subtleties of blacks, whites and greys through the core interior finishes. The result is a very neutral and calming environment as the backdrop to the colourful life that passes through the interior spaces,” says Pete. It is also at this early stage in the design that Kennon+ introduces selections of furniture and artwork, including everything down to the smaller objects and furnishings. “These elements are critical to completing the holistic atmosphere, the furniture is one of the first major commitments the clients make in our process,” Pete says.
Architecturally, the use of concrete is key to defining the distinctive repeated gables of the rear elevation. The strength of this concrete gable ensures that, while the narrow site and planning constraints meant the building needed to compress vertically so that the gable forms appear to grow from within one another, with each a smaller iteration of the main concrete form, the visual impact of the design is not lost.
“My work has a refined design intent and I trusted Duobuilt given that experience.”
The constraints of the site, which also included maintaining the front rooms of the original house and the existing pool in the back yard, the complex engineering of the concrete structure and the commitment shared by the architects and clients to achieving an exceptionally high level of finish, meant that close collaboration with the builder was required. Pete explains he had been impressed by a number of projects Duobuilt had delivered previously, particularly in their attention to detail in elements such as joinery and refinement in the materials in both hospitality and residential projects.
“My work has a refined design intent and I trusted Duobuilt given that experience,” he says. “The best process, in my opinion, is when builders are able to contribute to the design through their experience in construction techniques and we collaborate and learn from each other, so we both finish the project more knowledgeable than when we started. The nature of the way Duobuilt work assists in this type of process.” From the consideration given to the heritage façade’s six different tones of white, which gives the Victorian detail its due, to the way in which form and materiality work in concert, to the entry sequence that carefully curates the experience of the home for both the family and guests, the detail in the design is felt throughout, with each element executed to precision.
As one makes one’s way from the heritage double-fronted terrace at the street toward the more private family sanctuary beyond, a central black timber door gives an instant enlightening view line through to the rear garden and swimming pool. “The discovery beckons that there is more to the house the appeared from the front,” Pete says. The private master suite and study in the two front rooms act almost as a protective buffer to the family refuge deeper within the property. “You can’t get in unless you pass this barrier,” explains Pete. “Flanked by the master bedroom and study, the hallway steps down following the slope of the land. It feels as if the closed front end of the house begins to open, like the spout of a trumpet, the pressure increases through the trunk as you pass the staircase to the private children’s nest. The aperture is eventually maximised to face a rear garden, which is a secret refuge from the neighbourhood.”
For all the home’s varied qualities, what comes through most is the sensitivity to the relationship between identity and design. As a home that originated over a plate of lasagne, the Scandizzo House is above all an empathetic work of architecture, a response to the identity of the family it was designed for that will only continue to grow more meaningful and resonant with time.