“An armature of experiences”: Reed House
Reed House is an intimate collaborative architecture. It is intimately linked to the life story of architect Beth George and her clients: her sister Fran (archaeologist), her brother-in-law Mark (whom she has known since their teenage years) and their four daughters. The project involved the collective pursuit of ideas and aspirations through material construction – but also a shared understanding that architecture is a way to welcome and celebrate the life that unfolds in it. The resulting architectural result is a framework of experiences: past, present and future.
The decision to remediate the original and unlisted house of 1908 preserves a fragment of the streetscape of the heritage enclosure; and, more importantly, it means that the interior spaces, where memories were formed, have been preserved.
A nostalgic response is resisted, however, with the painstaking reconfiguration of the old and the new at the rear. At this critical moment, a new kitchen-dining area and its adjacent planted courtyard mark the coming together of the family, the building and the garden. The excavation of the ground below the existing ground level made it possible to form a generous new volume, becoming “a sort of excavation site in the old chalet”. Inlaid fragments of the original limestone footings are intentionally made visible in front of a new concrete plinth, which marks the beginning of a continuum of concrete throughout the house. Connections are formed both directly and indirectly, with the exterior now being recorded inside, new views and new lights illuminating the house. The old hallway appears to extend into the garden, aligning with an exterior path now enclosed by a native garden spilling out onto the cantilevered concrete planter on the upper floor.
Beth says the design “has had reactions to the site, the house’s program zoning, and all the usual stuff, but it’s also built from memory.” She and her sister remember the time spent together on a lawn adjacent to their childhood bedrooms and the pleasure of a garden tended by their mother who featured their home on the edge of a national park in the Perth Hills. This shared memory of garden spaces plays a key role in Reed House, where each new internal space is defined by a distinct association with a unique garden condition: a courtyard filled with plants defines the dining-kitchen space; the living space opens onto a grassed play area and a swimming pool; an enclosed garden envelops the master bedroom; overhead light filters through neighboring trees into the swimming areas; the upper floor hallway is closed off by framed views of a flowering jacaranda and a public park beyond; and, finally, the wall-to-wall concrete planter and its native plants obscure the distant city skyline from the children’s bedrooms upstairs. Conceptually, garden spaces become a generational link to a shared spatial history; As the gardens grow they will also register the passage of time against the presence and permanence of the house.
Formally and pragmatically, the new concrete structure assumes multiple roles: it is both floor and wall, ceiling and cantilever, inside and outside. Externally, its folds capture and supply water to the native gardens below. Inside, the exposed concrete structure defines, connects and becomes an informally occupied space, like steps, baseboards and window seats. There is an intentional ambiguity in the resulting living and circulation spaces. The generous dimensions can accommodate impromptu ballet and gymnastics performances when the curtains are left open; when the curtains are drawn, a collection of individual zones is created. Elsewhere, private spaces are distinguished by refined details and unique material combinations of ceramic tile, facing bricks, and stained plywood.
In this way, the interior is not defined by a set of rooms with traditional names but, as Fran says, by “a series of short stories”. One such “story” is in the faceted plywood-lined reading nook on the upper level, where a soft pink glow, refracted through the painted skylight ceiling, bathes the adjacent wall down to the floor level below. various times and intensities. It is a background of life: orchestrated but still elusive, memorable but always changing.
The skill of the architect is therefore not to impose but to record, evoke and amplify experiences. Customers recognize this as a key contribution, as well as the skill and care of the builder and traders throughout the process. “Trying to translate what you feel into something that then gives you what you want – that’s a tricky thing,” says Mark.
This type of architecture is not measured in prices per square meter or in parts and elements to be listed in a real estate location. This is a house. One that links the feelings of past experience with new memories and fleeting moments of everyday life. It is designed to generate much longer term value – value that is deeply felt, shared and remembered.