The Quarry Road House
Gillian van der Schans
Launceston, TAS, Australia
From the Designer
Creating a building has similar qualities to creating a large sculptural piece of art. Essentially a building is a three dimensional object, with a relationship to its landscape and space is emptiness until defined, moulded, framed and influenced by the parameters of a site.
One of the most inspiring aspects of Quarry Road is the framed, telescopic view into the Cataract Gorge Reserve. Aspects of this view include the basin chairlift, the public pool and the Victorian suspension bridge which spans the South Esk River rapid. The Cataract Gorge is a predominately a native landscape of dry sclerophyll forest upon steeply sloping rocky hillsides. The dominant colours of the vegetation are grey, copper tones (of she oaks and native cherries) and warm greens (of eucalypts and native hops).
The site is within a scenic protection zone, hence cladding material choices were driven by a desire to create a building with low impact on the visually striking landscape. The copper (standing seam) cladding on the first level is inseparable in tone and colour from the she oaks, whilst the highly burnished precast concrete panels that create the ground floor recede into the shadows of the understory vegetation.
Further landscape influenced design choices include the controlled arrangement of glazing. The view focuses on nature whilst excluding neighbouring buildings. Manipulating the placement of glazing creates a private home which feels more distant from the city bustle than its location would suggest.
The picturesque western view influences the telescope-like form of the building. In addition, the placement of the long elevation perpendicular to the North enhances the passive solar gain of the building. North-facing glazing captures sunlight, creating a naturally lit interior, whilst soft, pale interior selections, a polished compressed cement floor and compressed cement walls, reflected this captured light within the spaces.
The site also presented an immediate structural challenge. A 25 degree slope of predominantly earth fill strongly influenced a highly engineered approach. The design solution; a cantilevered steel pavilion rested upon a rigid concrete structure below. Precast panels were the appropriate choice for construction and a crane allowed for these to be easily lowered into place at the lower, far end of the site. For the upper storey a prefabricated steel structure, again positioned via a crane, accommodated for what would have been an otherwise difficult construction process at the steeper end of the site. This steel structure forms the living room space and cantilevers 5.5m beyond the lower concrete structure, stretching within arms reach of the canopy of a large eucalyptus tree. Native bird species gather in this significant tree and can be watched from the living space. Whilst the living space is enclosed high above the ground, multiple physical and visual connections encourages the eye to wander past the boundaries of the rooms.
The client’s brief was to design a building that both respected the unique qualities of the site and reflected the spirit of the place. This building strived to make its users aware of a dialogue between building and landscape and create a strong connection to nature.
At the Quarry Road House contrasts establish a sharpness and scale. For example mass needs lightness, light needs darkness, and texture needs smoothness. A limited material palette thoughtfully considers these contrasts. The floors are burnished concrete or polished compressed cement sheet. The walls are exposed precast panels and the joinery and doors; celery veneer. A dramatically lit, steel lined staircase void links intersecting upper and lower level spaces. This durable palette is textured and honest. The precast concrete walls provide the building a sense of permanence, against the lightness of the glass and the precise steel and celery top pine joinery. Cross lighting, both natural and artificial, enhances these distinctions. Warm and contrasting textures between the internal and external materials foster an atmosphere of the home.
The materials used in this building display their rough hewn and imperfect qualities. Elements of construction, such as the exposed steel and other structural solutions, are exhibited rather than concealed behind plaster linings. The owner and builder Tim Hawkins has put great care and design intuition into its construction. A minimalist building requires great attention to detail and a builder with an intuitive aesthetic.
There are multiple justifications and ideas in a building. Architecture is a complex process and every design element may have multiple justifications for being in any particular way. Walking a pathway between conceptual and constructional rationales is a challenging yet rewarding process. Strong concepts and site influences has resulted in a building with a strong identity, a firm relationship with landscape, yet also enriching its place in Quarry Road.