Material Play – Glen Iris House by Pandolfini Architects
Nestled in the suburbs of Melbourne, Glen Iris House conjures a sense of both familiarity and singularity. Pandolfini Architects has created a house that materially speaks to its neighbours yet inverts the use of these same materials to create a new experience of domestic suburban living. Similarly, the building’s street façade abstracts the formal cues of a traditional house, a point of difference from the pitched-roof homes that surround it.
Behind the façade, three pavilions step down the long rectangular site, creating a series of both communal and private spaces. In the centre, a barn-like structure forms the main living space. On either side of this central space are the private zones, bedrooms at the front and a garage pavilion at the rear, which houses a beloved car collection. Both the front and rear pavilions are treated with the same material palette. This unites the two forms and also highlights a priority in the design for human and non-human occupants alike.
For Pandolfini Architects, this project provided an opportunity to explore the use of materials. “While the composition of strong, simple forms is a continuing theme through our work, we typically combine this with a pared-back material palette,” explains Dominic Pandolfini. Yet here, he notes, “we have really pushed the materiality.” Initially, this came from the clients’ desire for “the house to be constructed with hard-wearing, honest materials,” says Dominic. He explains that “as part of this, we were given a really eclectic mix of reference images, which included a lot of ancient ruins and old industrial buildings. These formed the basis for the materiality of the project and all the heavy, exposed structure.”
A series of bush-hammered concrete walls provide both structure and a means of organisation for the central living pavilion. Externally, arched apertures in the walls create a cloister-like walkway that opens onto the pool and garden. Arched apertures become a motif that continues through the house, from the shape of the pool to the windows, uniting all aspects of the design. Similarly, the walkway is paved with terracotta bricks, linking it to the front façade of the house.
Internally, the rawness of the concrete is softened by travertine floors, a spotted gum-lined ceiling and American oak joinery, creating a warm environment. The rhythm of the concrete provides a sense of order in the space, which is then punctured by key insertions. The sculptural fireplace rendered in hard plaster is a central focus of the living area. Similarly, the round dining table appears to pierce through the plan, with the glazing following its curve, allowing for built-in seating. Finally, a curved staircase is lit by a skylight above, emphasising the transition between floors. These playful moments provide a sense of joy that balances with the industrial nature of the concrete.
On the exterior, Pandolfini Architects has played with materials in a different way. Referencing the roofs of neighbouring houses in the street, terracotta bricks wrap the upper level of the house. Dominic explains, “each brick is laid vertically and rotated 45 degrees to create a serrated surface.” This dynamic surface is further animated by the dancing shadows of dappled light from the large, leafy street trees. Breaking the pattern of the bricks, a singular arched opening reveals an internal courtyard and provides some hint as to what lies beyond the façade. This brick-clad wall also creates a buffer to the bedroom from the street and the western sun.
The terracotta is balanced by a patinated copper screen that anchors the house on the ground floor. This patination makes it difficult to determine a date for the building, giving it a sense of timelessness. Dominic says the screen “reinterprets the surrounding fences overgrown with greenery.” Here, the architects have pushed the ‘fence’ back from the property boundary, opening up the front garden – a gesture of generosity to the street. Whilst there are clear references to the existing context of this Glen Iris street, the new façade provides a rethinking of the material logic of the suburbs.
Traversing the three pavilions across the site is a varied experience. Dominic explains that the family of five “had recently been on a kayaking trip and described how they’d travelled down a river, discovering a new environment around every turn. They wanted to create a similar experience of journey and discovery as one moved through the house.” With contrasting materials, varying apertures and playful moments, this home is a place to explore and experience over time.
The considered treatment of material and careful detailing significantly elevates Glen Iris House. Whilst there are varied experiential moments within the interior, each transition has been diligently designed and resolved. Together, these moments are united by the bold geometries of the three pavilions. Fresh yet familiar, Glen Iris House is a unique take on a contemporary suburban home.