A site that runs close to a main road is not what you’d immediately associate with contemporary residential architecture. But it is precisely this contextual challenge that informed Edition Office’s design for Fish Creek House, the winner of the 2017 Victorian Architecture Award for Residential Architecture.
Set along a ridgeline in the agrarian Victorian region of Gippsland, the home overlooks farmland that runs towards an ocean inlet. Although privy to “extraordinary views” of Wilson’s Promontory National Park to the east, a “noisy” highway sits to the site’s west. Despite many contextual challenges – such as a narrow footprint and windy weather conditions most of the year – it is this view that drew owners Jackie and Richard Dargaville to the site.
The clients – a retired couple – are heavily involved in social and environmental sustainability, and wanted their lifestyle to leave as little impact as possible. The brief received by Edition Office was also for a home that was comfortably sized for two people, but was able to accommodate a rather large family – seven children and twelve grandchildren – when required.
In response to this and the narrow site they had to work with, Edition created a linear plan that allowed three “skewed” pavilions to be arranged side-by-side. Between these pavilions lie a series of courtyards, which add demarcation of space and privacy for the buildings’ occupants.
Further to this privacy consideration, it was logical for Edition to turn Fish Creek House away from the highway. Each pavilion faces onto Wilson’s Promontory National Park, with an extended masonry wall – composed of bricks arranged in a “perforated” pattern – opens up onto the extensive views.
According to the architect, the house can be understood as “a pragmatic diagram that opens up and closes down in response [to its mixed-blessing environment]. Yet, it is also a compelling monument in this agrarian landscape.”
This perforated wall arrangement, which hugs the courtyards, also helps to mitigate the strong, year-round winds of the Gippsland region.
Just as the masonry wall cuts up the breeze, so too does the linear footprint of the buildings break up the view into a series of distilled frames. Snippets of Wilson’s Promontory are evident walking through the building from entry through the various courtyard spaces, but it is only from the main living room that the full view is revealed. Here, an L-shaped bench wraps around the perimeter to take full advantage of the vista.
In this sense, the home mimics its own response to the environment. Rather than be a solid, delineated presence within the environment, the house shoots at a sensitive form that reveals itself gradually.
“Inscrutable from a distance, the house is a singular form. On approach, the material qualities and detail of the house’s protective outer wall are revealed,” says Edition.
“The usual proportion of mortar to brick is reverse, and the wall’s surface takes on a different quality, hand-hewn and imperfect whilst still precisely describing the house’s boundaries.”
Although the design has been formulated around the landscape, the architecture of Fish Creek House is in no way submissive as a result of its purpose. The house is remarkable on its own terms, bringing to mind a distinctly Australian housing typology. This is particularly true of how its material palette reveals itself, which the architects claim was intended as a reflection of the work of James Birrell.