robin boyd open day 2015 | day one

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Yesterday was an open day ran by the Robin Boyd Foundation, “Awards 2015: Redesigning the Family Home“. This was an event I was looking forward to, being able to check out houses I’ve only seen on the computer screen or in magazines. Let me say straight away, and this should be the obvious, you can not substitute experiencing a building with merely looking at someone else’s photograph! The houses that were opened yesterday were some of the best homes last year, and have been collecting awards ever since. These homes also reflect with today’s changing family dynamics, the houses that are designed for these families must be different from 1950s. Waking up yesterday morning, full eagerness, I jumped into my car and set my GPS to the first house, House 3 by Coy Yiontis Archiects.

Now, before I continue I must let those who didn’t attend know something, there were rules in place that prevented photographing the interiors. I assume this is because it’s someone’s home, which could make the owners uncomfortable, so the lack of photos is a result of this. However, for me it wasn’t about the photos, it was about finally experiencing an architect-designed home in person.

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House 3 by Coy Yiontis Architects

Arriving half-an-hour early from kick-off time, I waited in the delightful and welcomed Melbourne morning sun. Whilst waiting I managed to catch a glimpse of the sculptural timber mass at the rear, and noticed how the same time used on the facade is used for the deck-path down the side, and even on a section of the front fence, connecting it all together. Little things like this get me excited, so I giddy to check this house out. 10:00am came about and was ushered down the path and entered in the courtyard that separated the new section from the cottage at the front. I was briefed with the rules, took my thongs off (flip-flops for anyone outside of Australia) and entered the quite spacious extension. Marveling at the materials and geometric shapes, I wandered around the house, going through the glazed hallway into the old cottage, and back out. I could easily imagine the family sitting in the courtyard on a day like today, and could picture myself in some of their study-nooks. There was even a “secret” room that required you to go past a bookcase, which I would have missed if a volunteer didn’t mention it prior.

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Local House by MAKE Architecture

Next on the list was Local House by MAKE Architecture, and after walking way longer than I should had I entered in via the lane, which was suggested by Mel Bright [the architect] to experience the design. She was not wrong, getting a hint at what was to come from the laneway, you walk through the rear garage, into the courtyard and meet with timber, glass, concrete, history and grass. I noticed a classmate was volunteering, so I had a chat with him for some time. Wanting to explore upstairs, I tripped up the very first step, as it was the same materiality as the floor.  The bathroom featured a very beautiful skylight over the shower, [which seemed to be a theme with the houses today] and a nice shoe storage balustrade, which I now question the legality, but beautiful nonetheless. But the biggest wow factor came when you entered the bedroom, with the timber screen filtering light, connection to the concrete and room below, it was such a calming space despite the possibility of being overwhelmed. The lights weren’t on, but the natural daylight in the room was incredible.

Making my way downtown, walking fast, faces pass, and I’m home bound…. Wait, what. No, making my way downstairs I explored further, marveling at the material composition and small details. Example, bottom of the door handle aligned with the base of a stair run, now many people wouldn’t pick up on it but I suspect if the handle was slightly up, or down, people would. Had another chat with my mate, discussing the house and university.

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Tower House by Andrew Maynard Architects

I had planned on visiting another project, however I was too excited with the idea of finally experiencing an Andrew Maynard project in person so I headed to Alphington. Driving past I saw a line-up, which wasn’t seen at the other two houses. I managed to find a park a couple streets away, and I jumped in the line. After queuing for 15 minutes or so, I slipped my thongs off and entered through. Walking through the connected spaces you barely notice you are transitioning from one “tower” to the next except for the hint of glass. Much like House 3 and Local House, there were little details that made the house, one of which was seen at the entry point and in the kitchen. The biggest interior statement however was the net in the tower, and as I kid I would have loved this! In the garden you can see all the towers, each one with timber shingles starting to silver and the profiled metal cladding.

In between I also visited the Bow House by Edwards Moore and Fat Plan on Faraday by The Rexroth Mannasmann Collective. Unfortunately I didn’t snap any photos at either, I was a bit scared with the “No Photographs Inside” rule, so even exterior photos were limited. Both houses had their charm, one was a new build, the other a converted warehouse fitout. The Bow House had an amazing outdoor connection at the kink, with a huge sliding door. Fat Plan on Faraday had this “odd” material, it was like corrugated iron but instead of, well iron, it was a felt or something. Not sure if it was acoustic paneling, but was intriguing.

Mexican Contemporary House by Andres Casilla + Evolva Architects
Mexican Contemporary House by Andres Casilla + Evolva Architects

The final place I visited, I almost not-visited. I received a text while I was wandering around Bow House from my mate volunteering at Local House saying that he has overheard quite a few people praising the project. I decided I’d make it my final stop, so driving 20 minutes from Carlton, I made my way to Camberwell. I was met with yet another line-up, and waited patiently. From the street, it’s very much a unwelcoming building, full of concrete blank walls except for the hint of glass and brown-ish paneling. There is a beautiful pond, requiring you to step over to enter, and as I walking over I couldn’t help but think ‘How many people have fallen in this?’ Inside you are met with dramatic volumes, concrete, white walls and timber. A quick wander through I wanted to see the rear facade, a popular photo it seemed. I wasn’t disappointed, big glazed windows, disappearing sliding doors, concrete and a splash of colour make up the facade. I then got talking with one of the volunteers, a student from University of Melbourne, and we chatted all things architecture.

One detail I loved were the doors, just a piece of square timber block acted as the handles. There were no latches, and the doors were full height so when opened you had this clear sight. This is the difference between an architect-designed home, and a project builder, I can not imagine this project with a stand 820×2020 door with the timber frame and architrave. I do wonder how much more expensive these doors are compared with standards, because I want them! One detail I wasn’t loving was the material used for the splashback in the kitchen, some marble-like material. It seemed quite disconnected from the rest of the palette, and would have loved to seen concrete used!

I spent quite a bit of time here, mainly just chatting with the volunteer, but just glancing around the spaces, feeling the warmth of the sun, imagining how this space would be used if my brother and his children lived here.

During the final house the volunteer asked a tough question, “Why aren’t these homes the norm? Why don’t families build more of these homes?” Paraphrased. The only answer I could come up with involved money, I guess not every family has a $1million budget. Or perhaps a young couple is so desperate to enter the property, they can put a $2k deposit down with a volume builder and build a cheap, shitty home for $200-$400k.

I would have loved to know the budgets for the homes on display yesterday, to see how affordable these could be for families. Looking at the kitchens and bathrooms (possibly the most expensive rooms in homes), these homes featured some amazing fixtures and fittings, and I assume the tiles weren’t cheap. However chatting with my mate on the way home, he said “… you could get everything spatially and the compositions without the need for over the top plumbing expenses.” A family could probably afford a Local House or Tower House, provided they want to spend their money on spaces and materials, not a fancy toilet and huge shower head. I would have loved to seen a house done on a tight budget, and achieved something similar. Perhaps there were, but we didn’t know.

The crowd yesterday seemed to be made up of architects and students, not many public-people, or non-architect families. The general public needs to be educated on what architects can do for you, and if everyday-families can walk through an architect-designed home, and they see and feel the spaces, they may look at an architect for their next home instead of a cheap builder.

All-in-all, the day was amazing. Melbourne really turned on the weather to the point I was in a t-shirt, driving around with my window down. There are another two open days associated with the theme, including the Sawmill House by Archier, so very much looking forward to that. For a $40 ticket, which gets me entry to all three days, I think it is worth the cost. It’s one thing to look at a couple pictures on Archdaily or Instagram, it’s another to actual experience the space.

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