Urban Context and Habitation - Edsall Street by Ritz & Ghougassian
Malvern, VIC, Australia
Guided by the gregarious nature of their entrusting client, Edsall Street uses brutalist materiality and form to carve interior spaces that celebrate structure, form and light. Jean-Paul Ghougassian and Gilad Ritz of Ritz Ghougassian speak to their studio’s rigor and approach to habitation.
Conceived as a front to the commercially-zoned adjacent muli-storey carpark and retail zone, the extension to a modest cottage in Malvern sees a minimal brutalism emerge. The form of Edsall Street, as Jean-Paul Gougassian and Gilad Ritz describe, “takes two forms and is the result of its context, and the theoretical discussions within the studio on habitation”. They continue, “we discuss the importance of how habitation should be a positive thing and how stripping back and controlling views are important to us”. In this case, they say having control over the experience internally was paramount to the client, particuarly in creating a sense of separation from its neighbours.
With a site area just under 400sqm, the construction and design periods both took twelve months consecutively, with completion and client occupation occuring in December 2018. Jean-Paul and Gilad have their own unique approach to design and concept exploration, saying that “form is not the first thing for us. The form evolves from the materiality and function of the project. We see each project as a way to create a shell and naturalise it, and create privacy within”. This is ever so prevalent with Edsall Street where, with such a limited site near to all of available land was utilised. This theory then ties back into their chosen palette. Jean-Paul and Gilad in referrring to their materiality, say “We like to use concrete and masonry. In a way, heavy brutalist materials create the best levels of privacy and protection from the outside, and create a solemn interior for the client”.
Edsall Street uses brutalist materiality and form to carve interior spaces that celebrate structure, form and light.
“We discuss the importance of how habitation should be a positive thing and how stripping back and controlling views are important to us”.
Beautifully imposing, yet somehow familiar and inviting, the envelopes that comprise the extension to Edsall Street are expressed through a series of lines of purposed separation. Described by Jean-Paul and Gilad as “pauses separating the old and the new’” these controlled openings further emphasise the form externally, and also create interesting entry points for light from the interior. Expressing materiality is key for Ritz and Ghougassian, as evident yet again in Edsall Street. The clean lines of bond-stacked brickwork (that have become a somewhat signature of their work), sit comfortably alongside warm timber, exposed polished concrete and uninterrupted spans of glass and steel. As the transition from the existing residence into the wholly new volume at the rear, fragments are maintained, and new materiality introduced. Jean-Paul and Gilad describe their approach as “a series of masonry walls that open outward toward garden spaces of crushed limestone and native flora”.
Having collaborated on previous projects, the trusting client-architect relationship was already established. The client, as Jean-Paul and Gilad describe, “didn’t shy away from having a full presence on the site”. This had directly positive implications as, “being commercially fronting, almost meant we could be less sensitive to our imposing approach, than if it were facing residential”. This then meant, they say, “our approach could be hard-edged, and more brutal”. Their approach vertically was to maximise the “sloping nature of the site, meaning that the ground plain could step away from the main entrance, creating a vertical dislocation, segmenting rooms and volumes from one another.” This also allowed for, as they say, “the double-story volume at the rear to appear less dominating from the rear, allowing the new portion of the house to hide behind the existing frontage”.
“We see each project as a way to create a shell and naturalise it, and create privacy within”.
Although, as Jean-Paul and Gilad note, “the trust in aesthetic and process had already been established, the resulting brief wasn’t too far from our typical typology”. With the expected requirements for storage, private and social zones, their approach was “to include as much natural light as possible”. They say, “sustainability is also key for us. We rely on a lot of passive elements in our designs; ensuring cross-ventilation can occur is always key, as is using concrete (for example) for its high thermal mass, for the slow release and absorption of heat”. In essence, they say, “it’s about low maintenance”. The approach to design and planning is also stripped back. They say, “we try to reduce the plan, to simplify it, reduce it to make it more legible. This then flows through to the tectonics of the building too, and always wanting to make these elements legible”. Their approach to structure and the bringing together of elements, “is always intentional; we want to see joints, lintels etcetera and don’t want to hide anything (by covering in plasterboard, for example). These elements enhance the experience within and informs the architecture as well”.
“The trust in aesthetic and process had already been established, the resulting brief wasn’t too far from our typical typology”.
“We like to use concrete and masonry. In a way, heavy brutalist materials create the best levels of privacy and protection from the outside, and create a solemn interior for the client”.
For Ritz and Ghougassian, their theoretical rigor and constant analysis is what drives their practice. For them, they describe, “architecture is about creating volume; it’s about creating a sense of living where the qualities we learn from one typology, will always inform the others”. Anchored on a process of reduction, Jean-Paul and Gilad describe their process in three principles; “One, the reduction of form and materials. Two, designing very much from the interior perspective, and three, contextualising projects (locally sourcing materials as much as possible”. For them, “it is a continual dialogue, we want to discuss the success or lessons from the past, and how we can be pushing further on the next project and reinterpreing those lessons into a current conversation”.