Pastoral Paradise – Casa di Campo by Neil Architecture
Conceived by Neil Architecture as an inward-facing courtyard house, Casa di Campo is a place of sanctuary. Situated in Werribee South – a district known for its agricultural plains and ubiquitous market gardens – the rationale behind the design was to demarcate the residence from the pastoral landscape that serves as the homeowners’ place of work.
Werribee South, 32 kilometres west of Melbourne, is a district steeped in a time-honoured tradition of agriculture. Here, the land is flat, the soil red and fertile, and the landscape unfolds unto the horizon with market gardens full of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel and many more greens. As a district that cultivates a substantial portion of Victoria’s vegetable produce, the area is far from residential, rather marked by the occasional farmhouse or machinery shed, appearing like islands atop the flat plains. Therefore, when David Neil, Founder and Principal Architect of Neil Architecture, was approached by a family of second-generation farmers to construct a home on the farmland, the true challenge lay in conceiving a residence that would afford the inhabitants adequate privacy and respite from the land.
In an effort to distinguish the family’s residence from their pastoral workplace surroundings, David and his team developed the idea of an inward-looking courtyard house. The interior was kept linear, with a rectangular layout parlaying into a large central courtyard garden that would serve as the primary outdoor living space. A series of smaller voids was also instituted around the edges to create intimate periphery courtyard gardens. The perimeter wall, meanwhile, was built like a bastion to sequester the interior from the encompassing plains.
For the central courtyard garden, the architects created a private oasis, far removed from the bucolic landscape. “Being so flat, the site is exposed to the elements. The courtyard, therefore, was important to create a sense of relief,” David says. The garden has something for everyone – a swimming pool on one side serves as a summertime retreat for the children, whilst a large outdoor lounge and cooking area present a welcome spot for al fresco dining. There are other novelties too – a handkerchief lawn skirted by oversized stone steppers, a built-in barbeque, a colonnade and covered walkway along the interior perimeter, an adjustable louvred roof and concealed sliding screens to keep insects at bay, and an assortment of transitional spaces that blur the boundaries between inside and out.
When it came to crafting the interior, functional demarcation served as the point of departure at Neil Architecture. The entryway was carved inside a wall niche and fronted by a dark-stained American oak pivot door. In a bid to introduce views on both sides of the threshold, the architects conceived a private walled garden neighbouring the foyer. A central living room was made to anchor the plan, whilst separate wings for adults and children were created to the west, the latter with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a playroom. For David and his team, the living room was imagined as more than just a space for entertaining. “It is the first room leading off the entryway, sitting at the centre of the house, with views to the central courtyard to the north and a secondary landscaped courtyard to the west. It is a junction of sorts, a gateway to the home’s private realms, so it really is the heart of the home in more ways than one,” he avers.
A full-height joinery unit with a double-sided fireplace divides the living room from the dining room. This space is further enveloped by the kitchen and the outdoor lounge area, with which it also merges to form an extended outdoor dining space by way of sliding doors. “The dining room is designed to host both intimate meals and larger, more formal events,” says David. In the same vein, delicate, sculptural pendants overarch the setting, providing task lighting whilst serving equally as elegant objets d’art.
The material palette exhibits a considered restraint, with measured tones and textures.
The material palette exhibits a considered restraint, with measured tones and textures. The walls, both interior and exterior, are characterised by a rammed-earth finish in dove grey, whilst the floor is clad in a complementary shade of micro terrazzo. For the wall panels and joinery, the team elected to use honey-hued oak, as a warm counterpoint to the muted shell. Batten screens define the wall openings, providing glimpses of the farmland beyond. The kitchen echoes the minimalist ethos, with such functional elevations as a scullery for appliances and a well-appointed walk-in pantry. A quartzite island bench and a picture window give the realm a postcard-like quality.
The primary bedroom is located on the eastern side of the house, oriented for the morning sun and funnelling into its own private walled courtyard. The rammed-earth walls in the courtyard are continued inside, whilst a 1.8-metre-high joinery module masquerades as a larger-than-life bedhead. The children’s wing, on the other hand, mirrors the rustic finishes of the common areas. The walls, for example, wear a pale green-grey plaster, as bursts of colour manifest in the way of maroon tiles above the fireplace, blue-veined quartzite benchtops and sage porcelain tiles in the bathrooms. Four identical children’s bedrooms extend along the western length of the house, with each angled towards the central courtyard. The playroom sits at the end of the children’s wing and offers direct access to the courtyard – a literal and figurative representation of its breathe-easy role.
The home features a bouquet of sustainable climatic controls. The perimeter wall is 400 millimetres thick and composed of rammed earth. Consequently, it contains a central insulation layer that provides a high degree of thermal mass. Equally, the rammed earth composition is made from a recycled fill product from Boral. In another similar example, the verandah protects the internal windows from the summer sun, whilst external blinds provide sun protection to the perimeter windows. Responding to its context with an intuitively protective gesture, Casa di Campo is an ideal place of retreat for its inhabitants. With thoughtful interventions to keep the interior in tune with the environment, the home is indeed a sanctuary for all seasons.