The Dialectic of Past and Present in Architectural Form
Brighton, VIC, Australia
The Pavilion House by Robson Rak is defined by a very particular composition. The point at which a stately Victorian home and a new midcentury-inspired glass pavilion meet creates a unique juxtaposition, as though two entities separated by over half a century in time and a multitude of historical changes had each suddenly come face-to-face and been confronted with the other.
While modern extensions to heritage homes have become the norm in cities like Melbourne, the Pavilion House is set apart by the design integrity of each volume, such that each seems to mark a highly specific moment in the past. The glass pavilion is not simply a contemporary extension, rather it looks back to the middle of last century and the aspirational architecture that flourished in Los Angeles at the time. The Victorian house, meanwhile, has been meticulously restored with incredible attention to the appropriate techniques and materials of the period so that it stands as a proud exemplar of its era.
This was an intentional move on the behalf of Robson Rak in response to the challenge of working two very strong, remarkably different architectural styles into the one family home. The clients had spent time in LA, and admired the midcentury architecture they had seen. When it came to renovating their Melbourne home, they expressed the desire for a ‘pavilion’ with a close connection to the outdoors. “They valued the connection with the outdoors, which was something the original Victorian home did not provide”, architect Kathryn Robson explains. “The style of the original and the new addition were both so strong, we felt we had to separate the two forms via two internal atrium gardens”.
The Pavilion House by Robson Rak is set apart by the design integrity of each volume.
The two volumes may be physically and stylistically separated, yet they are more aligned than they may appear at first glance. “The contemporary form uses as much texture as possible, especially through the stone walls, inspired by the original that is so full of texture”, says interior designer Chris Rak. “We were mindful not to just create a rendered box”. Thus, the pattern of the new stonework is not an ordered grid, instead it is a contemporary interpretation on the Ashlar pattern of the Victorian. “[The new design] was about trying to create something with as much weight as the original”, Kathryn reflects.
Their work on the original Victorian was a balance between restoring many original elements while recreating the interior to function appropriately for contemporary family life. Externally, the home has been returned to its former glory thanks to the designers’ appreciation for the craftsmanship of the period. “What we love about these old Victorians is that they were built in the day of putting in that extra effort, of valuing craftsmanship”, says Chris. While there were certainly quicker ways to approach the work on the original, Kathryn and Chris explained the merit in “doing things properly” to their client, ensuring that the new work lived up to the quality of the original.
“They valued the connection with the outdoors, which was something the original Victorian home did not provide”.
Internally, they reorganised the program to be more functional, moving the bedrooms to the front of the house and adding ensuites. Certain playful, contemporary touches were added such as striking blue library. In other cases, though, Kathryn and Chris added features in the style of the original to ensure the integrity of the interior. In the hallway, two ornate decorative arches were part of the original house, but Robson Rak added a third to match the existing detail and create continuity. Where mouldings on the side of the house had been demolished or degraded over time, they were recast, and where new windows were added to enhance the connection to the garden, they were created in the style of the original.
Moving in to the new pavilion, the timber flooring is the same throughout to create a seamless journey between the two, while hints of rose gold in the tapware, herringbone tiles in the bathroom and solid interior and exterior limestone walls create an aesthetic connection. Yet overall, the material palette is kept deliberately simple in consideration of the sheer amount of visual exposure to the garden coming in through the expanses of glazing. “Considering the amount of nature coming in with so much glass, we didn’t want to want to overcomplicate it”, says Chris. “We also wanted to keep it quite light and bright, so the stone and timbers are on the paler side”, Kathryn adds.
“We were mindful not to just create a rendered box”.
In a city of ever-smaller sites and two-storey extensions, as a single-storey the Pavilion House is the exception. “It was nice to be able to keep those long low, lean forms”, says Kathryn. “We were spoiled because it was such a substantial site”. The new pavilion is almost entirely hidden from the street adjacent to the original house, with the size of the block allowing for a generous garden to envelop the home. This further enhances the sense of the ‘completeness’ of the two connected yet defined volumes. Where a double-storey addition would hover over the original Victorian, the single-storey allows each to sit in its own precise space, appearing as in conversation rather than competition.
Robson Rak’s approach allows each style its due, achieving an alignment between the two even while having the confidence to allow their separation. A new design, harking back to the architecture of over half a century ago, placed in conjunction with a building over 130 years old – the Pavilion House embodies the dialectic of past and the present in architectural form.