Frame House

We Are Like Bowerbirds

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Other Architects

Interview

Who influences you graphically?

In the eastern part of Australia, where we live, there is a type of bird called a satin bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus). For some reason, the males of this species like to collect blue objects, and place them within elaborate leaf and twig structures called ‘bowers’ to attract female mates. These bowers have also been found to employ forced perspective techniques, with small objects placed in the foreground and larger objects behind.

We are like bowerbirds. We are always on the hunt for different graphical motifs and methods, some of which are stolen from historical and contemporary art, some the byproducts of various types of software, others lifted from the work of designers we admire such as Ettore Sottsass, Point Supreme and Office KGDVS. And, naturally, we love to use forced perspective!

You compose through collage, to what extent do you believe that architecture is itself the greatest form of collage?

We’re searching for a simple and effective means for communicating our intentions, and equally simple and effective spatial, structural and material solutions. But there’s no direct correlation between the compositional act of collage and our design approach.  As an outcome, the type of architecture we desire to make is integral, direct, essential – almost the exact opposite of what collage implies.

What dictates the graphic language of a project? From colour palette to texture etc? 

Colours and textures initially come from particular materials or environments, but are eventually heightened or reduced to convey mood. The process is typically rapid, intuitive, non-precious and largely unedited. Jordan Soriot, who worked at Other Architects until recently, is a skilled designer who had a big influence on the quality of our graphics.

Ever so more do architectural representations make use of great masterpieces, what is your take on this? How does the inclusion of a fragment from Hockney generalise or diversify an image? 

These are not so much borrowed references as borrowed characters. Hockney’s swimmer from Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, evokes a private and hedonistic world. The sleeping picnickers from Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten film are captured in a moment of casual intimacy. Such characters are infinitely more descriptive than the generic fashion models or stock library figures found wandering blindly through most architectural images.

To what extent do you see the architectural representation as a form of art in itself, the first form of an architectural masterpiece? 

Our work is not an art form! We consider architecture, bound by practical constraints, funded by clients, seen mostly in passing if at all, to be a far easier occupation than the white-knuckle ride that is contemporary art. We must also point out there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that we are capable of producing architectural masterpieces.

What are the most important aspects you try to convey through an image? 

We try to emphasise the essential characteristics of the envisioned space or object – form, scale, topology, materiality – and downplay the inessential.

Frame House

Project team: David Neustein, Jordan Soriot.

Inspired by Geoffrey Bawa’s houses and Balinese villas, the client requested a place of permanent retreat. Yet the existing residence lacks open space or a scenic outlook. The lesser half of a large freestanding home split in two, this semi-detached dwelling is hemmed in on all sides by neighbouring houses. How to create exclusion, boundlessness and beauty within such constraints?

In essence, the project comprises a series of monolithic brick portals. Augmenting the existing masonry structure, these portals frame an idyllic rear garden and edit out less than idyllic surroundings. Ground floor living spaces are aligned in a continuous enfilade, while private spaces perch in a lightweight volume above. Framed by concentric apertures, the view down the house’s central passage magnifies the presence of the garden. This project embodies our increasing interest in an elemental architecture defined by perspective, proportion, axes and symmetry.

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Frame House

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Frame House

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Open House

Project Team: Michael Neustein, Jordan Soriot, David Neustein.

If anything is described by an architectural plan, it is the nature of human relationships, since the elements whose trace it records – walls, doors, windows and stairs – are employed first to divide and then selectively to re-unite inhabited space.

-Robin Evans, ‘Figures, Doors and Passages’, 1978

The house as we encountered it had no open space. An unbroken field of objects, furniture and possessions led from the street, via the enclosed garage, through the darkened house and into the overshadowed rear garden. Each room had several overlapping uses – resting, study, housework, entertaining, storage, play – and every available surface doubled as an archive stacked high with journals, books and papers. Our role here was obvious: first to divide, ordering and accommodating the various needs of a family of four; and then to re-unite, providing the open space so desperately needed for gathering, socialising, happiness and health.

Open House is divided into two halves. Accommodating symmetrical children’s bedrooms, the house’s front half has been designed to mirror its semi-detached neighbour. The rear half of the house is a lightweight, double storey volume with living spaces below and parents’ retreat above. Between these two halves is a central courtyard that provides a new outlook and focal point for family life. The courtyard allows winter sun to penetrate deep into the plan, transforms into a Sukkah on festive occasions, and will be gradually overtaken by flowering vines. A number of architectural strategies have been employed to extend the courtyard into the interior, including continuity of paving from inside to out, retractable glass doors, and a double storey void that connects upstairs study and downstairs living room.

Developed in close consultation with Cantilever Engineers, our design employs a radically efficient steel structure with few visible supports. The upper volume of the house appears to be suspended, while the lower half enjoys an uninterrupted connection to the garden. Structure and internal organisation have also been devised to provide capacity for future expansion or divided co-living arrangements. Open House is not just a considered response to the needs of a particular family, but a model for addressing constrained sites, unfavourable solar orientation and evolving living conditions.

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Open House

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Open House

Sentinel

Project Team: David Neustein, Grace Mortlock, Jordan Soriot, Christopher Argent

‘There is no architecture without a concept, an overriding idea that gives coherence and identity to a building.’ Bernard Tschumi

Halfway along the road south from Eumundi to Maleny you come across a huge figure in the landscape, his outstretched arm pointing the way into Kenilworth. As you round the bend, the monolith reveals itself to be a teetering stack of steelwork, tanks and timber battens, perhaps an agricultural or industrial installation of some kind. Within this lofty structure is a large window that promises a spectacular view of the Mary River, distant hills and bucolic countryside.

Sentinel is a piece of functional sculpture designed in response to flood measures, site access, gravity fed plumbing, structural efficiency, cost considerations and durability. Its towering form derives from the need to elevate the toilet block four metres above ground, and the decision to place water tank and holding tank above and below, respectively, to enable gravity-fed plumbing. The expressively opposed cantilever of these elements achieves equilibrium, minimising the size of structural elements and building footprint. Culminating in an elevated lookout, the sweeping ramp meets accessibility standards without impeding movement across the park.

Sentinel is architecture without a concept or an overriding idea. It is devoid of metaphor, symbolism, narrative, process and historical references. At once a public toilet, roadside landmark, town gateway, local attraction and viewing platform, Sentinel is an iconic object created by a set of purely pragmatic decisions.

Sentinel is currently one of 12 proposals, from a total of 193 international submissions, shortlisted for the Kenilworth Designer Dunny competition.

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Sentinel

Veiled Landscape

Project team: Other Architects and LCLA Office.

From dam to racetrack, factory to carpark, the site for this project is inscribed with successive boundaries. The division of the site into a park and aquatic centre risks reinforcing these boundaries in the form of setbacks, property lines and easements. We believe that architecture should simplify complexities and transcend constraints. Rather than a conventional building and field, we envision a single horizontal datum that traverses the entire site. Enabling access for all, this datum creates a continuous zone of activity and play; a plane of hedonistic simplicity.

Sydney is a water city. Water defines its history, shapes its form, and underlies its character. Green Square was, is, and always will be a wetland, albeit one submerged below stratified layers of sediment, fill, tarmac and concrete. Today, tracts of drainage infrastructure have been sunken below street level in a concerted, if futile, attempt to regulate the water’s flow. The transformation of an expansive portion of Green Square offers an ideal opportunity to uncover and restore its essential landform and ecology. Merging into pools and field, a fragment of wetland occupies the heart of our park, as if excavated from the urban plane of the datum. This cut reveals the variety of landscapes and natural systems that thrive within the wetland: from deep water to shallow pools, reed beds to grasslands. Enclosing the cut are the colonnades, public rooms and intimate chambers of a grand communal bathhouse.

“If we use the study of architecture to inform this discourse, and we go back in history, we will see that architects are always working with two elements, mass and membrane.”

William McDonough

Skimming over this hybrid terrain of constructed objects and living environment is the veil. The veil is a thin and diaphanous membrane strung on tensile cables. Within its draped canopy, boundaries blur between natural and man-made, water and land, outdoor and indoor. A memory of Christo’s Wrapped Coast and Frei Otto’s Munich Stadium, the veil provides seamless gradients of light and shade, protection and exposure, openness and enclosure. It allows our indoor swimmers to feel sunlight on their backs and breeze on their upstretched arms.

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Veiled Landscape

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Veiled Landscape

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