MacSween House

1995
Kensington, Victoria, Australia

This building is situated in a government housing scheme close to the Melbourne CBD. There were strict planning controls over the site – in particular that all new buildings had to have a pitched roof. No flat roofs were allowed.The structure is a simpler version of that used in the Gandolfo House – prefabricated roof trusses over an industrial portal frame. The brief was to design a small house for a single person in his early thirties.

The steel frame is expressed and the beams extend beyond the facade to the North and South, implying a universal infinite grid of portal frames of which the house, by virtue of its walls and roof, becomes a part.

The walls are white painted cement render over a stud frame. It is the roof however which dominates the composition. The barge board is 400mm wide dressed in Oregon, while the soffit is sawn cedar. The massiveness of the roof is accentuated by cutting the barge board horizontal to the ground and eliminating the gutters. The roofscape is a direct reference to the Ise Shrine in Japan, which I was studying at the time of designing this building. The Ise Shrine is a poetic example of the temporary nature of building – it has been re-built every twenty years for 1100 years and is a source of inspiration to many architects. The planning control for pitched roofs caused me to look to eastern as well as western precedents and confirmed a significant direction in my work from this project forward.