Carter/Tucker House

1998 - 2000
Breamlea, Victoria, Australia

A three level 12m x 6m box was embedded into the side of a sand dune. The house has three rooms. The lower ground floor is for guests and the single space can be divided by a sliding wall into two rooms if so required. Similarly the single space on the middle level can also be divided to separate the owner’s bedroom from a small sitting area. The top floor is for living and eating and takes advantage of views across a rural landscape. The top floor is also a daylight photographic studio.

In the Kew house two semiotic devices were employed (the divided plan - east and the kitchen table - west) to illustrate the principal architectural proposition of the building ie the east/west hybrid. My interest in this idea stems from observations of the way our country is evolving and how through that evolutionary process emerge social forces which shape our thinking as architects. This country’s unequivocal political and economic acceptance of its region has permanently changed the face of our nation. These circumstances offer architects in Australia a chance to work within a unique social dynamic where our European history is placed alongside our regional reality and where our responsibility as a profession is to respond to this situation.

In traditional Chinese architecture the aisle is a fluid outer building continuous around the perimeter of the inner building. In traditional Japanese architecture the aisle (gejin) is not continuous when added to a structure (hisashi) but is fluid space when an inner building is partitioned (hedate) to cause an aisle to be formed. The traditional outback Australian homestead is also surrounded by fluid space (verandah) which is sometimes partly enclosed with flywire or glass to form an indoor/outdoor space (sunroom). Where in cooler climates the roof of the aisle provides shelter from snow and rain, in the outback the verandah helped shade the vertical surfaces of the building from direct solar radiation. In both eastern and western examples the verandah provided transitional living space. Shiguru Ban’s ‘9 Square grid house’ uses hedate to provide numerous spatial combinations including aisle space which is formed by the overhang of the monolithic slab roof of that building. The Carter/Tucker house is primarily an investigation of the verandah/aisle and its potential as an iconic element common between eastern and western architecture.

The verandah exists in this house in an abstracted form. It has been analysed and then re-created using a process similar to that which Braques and Picasso employed in their Analytical (first stage) Cubist paintings of last century. In other words elements of the object exist throughout the building however its traditional form is not immediately evident. On all three levels the outer (timber screen) skin of the building tilts open and by tilting an awning is formed on the perimeter of the building. The horizontal plane of the ceiling is thus extended beyond the building line. At the same time the apparently flat facade of the building is modified in an arbitrary manor as a result of the owner’s particular requirement for view and shade at any given time. This (capricious) component allows the fluidity of the aisle space to transfer itself across the facade of the building and the very act of habitation means that the facade becomes a dynamic representation of the plan. On the middle level for example the bedroom then becomes the verandah while the corridor, formed by the insertion of a service core, becomes the inner room. Depending on the time of the year the verandah can then be enclosed with sliding flyscreens to become a sunroom, or left unenclosed. The bedroom space can then be further modified by the operation of the hedate wall which when drawn across the bedroom forms an inner building within the aisle. The idea of fluid space is further emphasised by the service core being kept free from both ends of the building so that movement through the floor is continuous - no steps have to be retraced.

By describing the three rooms of this buildings as aisles and therefore by definition transitional I am also alert to the fact that this is a weekend house, not a permanent dwelling. There is invested in this building a strong sense of childhood that begins with the anticipation of travel and promotes the sense of reward that comes at the conclusion of a journey. A number of these ideas were explored in my first house in Carlton some years ago. The one hour journey from Melbourne to this house does not conclude by arriving at the site. The visitor is then asked to walk uphill to nearly the back of the block where they enter on the middle level along a processional deck and through a ceremonial portal. Once inside they are faced with choice (up or down?) that takes them on a journey through the building which culminates in the ultimate reward of the roof terrace and its associated views. Along the way rooms are discovered behind apparently solid panels. In a recent visit to Paris I re-visited Le Corbusier’s Roche/Jeanneret house and was reminded as to where I had first encountered some fifteen years ago that same idea of journey, discovery and reward in architecture.

Finally there is a raw humanity to this building which is first evidenced in the MacSween house (1996) and further developed in the Kew house. In both this building and the Kew house the facades are veiled with a system of adjustable louvres which blur the edges of the building and constantly modify its appearance depending upon the position of the viewer. This is a conscious attempt to accentuate the buoyancy of intermittent light changes caused by changing light conditions, without which clarity and obscurity would not exist. Light enters or is prevented from entering the building in a constantly changing way. Nature itself acts in this manner - constantly making and unmaking, filling and emptying. The entire building has been designed to weather - to allow the inevitability of the environment and time to play a positive role. This rawness also ensures that the visitor is never seduced by the object itself ( a superficial outcome) but rather by their own capacity to experience the potential of the human spirit.