Tour de force of materiality: Garden Estate

Garden area by Robson Rak is a tour de force in the materiality of rammed earth, married to a magnificent, long-established garden to create an oasis of greenery and calm. The house is located at Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula east of Geelong, Victoria, where the design team created a collection of houses, several of which explored and refined the use of clay.

The genesis of this house – and moreover the impetus for the purchase of the double block by the customer – has always been the garden. Established for many years, the northern part of the landscape and much of the perimeter have been maintained and enlarged, while a modest existing house without distinction on the southern part of the islet was demolished to make way for new construction. . Robson Rak has worked closely with Eckersley Garden Architecture to create a complete home and garden that are completely complementary, neither making sense without the other. The result is a finished place that really seems to have existed for a long time.

In the wide and deep living space, the roof rises in a “crescendo” to the north, in search of the sun.

Image: Shannon McGrath

The signature material of this house and the defining feature of its planning are its 400-millimeter-thick adobe walls. The color and velvety texture of the material forms the backdrop for the foliage and trees on the outside and also defines the character of the interior, where you can get up close and personal with this lush material. In plan, long expanses of adobe walls direct lines of sight along the corridors and axes, ending in views of the garden which are in turn vast and intimate. The front door frames a view of the trunk of a palm tree, which is visible when the door is ajar – proof of the extreme coordination between the planning of the house and that of the garden.

The house is essentially made up of a series of pavilions and modules arranged along three main corridor axes. Planning is zoned to allow an older couple to retain their private space while sharing the home with children, grandchildren and visitors – each has their own space, with retirement and living together, both supported by the generous floor plate. The pavilions and thimbles are finished in adobe or wood and the two materials are used interchangeably inside and out, blurring the distinction between the two.

The pavilions and pods that make up the house are immersed in the garden.

The pavilions and pods that make up the house are immersed in the garden.

Image: Shannon McGrath

Of all the phrases in this house’s music, the crescendo is the living room pavilion. This space is wide and deep, and in the interest of drawing natural light far enough into the plane to reach the south living room, Robson Rak raised the roof to the north to seek out the sun. The high views of the established trees surrounding the house are enjoyed through the slatted windows under this sloping roof. The frames of these windows were integrated into the roof plane to create a seamless edge and to allow the roof line to form an expressive and singular canopy for the pavilion. A connection to the garden is emphasized by extending the stone paving of the terrace into the pavilion under the dining table.

The color scheme of the house has been defined by the tones and hues of the garden, and features complementary and contrasting elements: browns and greens and, of course, the particular shade of adobe. The goal, according to senior interior designer Chris Rak, was to show restraint. Fashion and trend have played little or no role in resolving architecture and interiors.

The stone paving extends into the living pavilion, emphasizing a connection between interior and exterior.  Work: Nellie Marks Nakamarra.

The stone paving extends into the living pavilion, emphasizing a connection between interior and exterior. Work: Nellie Marks Nakamarra.

Image: Shannon McGrath

As Chris, Principal Architect Kathryn Robson and their team continue to work with clay, they refine their finishing and construction techniques. A willful and enthusiastic builder supported them in this endeavor, hollowing out door frames to make seamless edges, for example, to ensure that the material achieves its ultimate expression. A new detail for this house is the exterior crowning of the walls, which is essential to control the entry of water. Here, the team came up with a styling method using a 10-millimeter thick plate rather than a more agricultural styling that might look easier and more obvious. The result is a crisp defining line atop the exterior walls – a sharp detail to add to the cabinet’s expanding toolbox.

In many ways, Garden Estate represents both a continuity and an ongoing evolution in the homes of Robson Rak. Chris, Kathryn and their team remain passionate about integrating landscape – or, perhaps more correctly, the garden – and interiors, and garden courtyards occupy a prominent place in their work. As they continue to build a reputation for their modernist approach to the roughness and refinement of clay, it is clear that they are championing a material rich in riches to be celebrated. The result in this case is, in Kathryn’s words, “unique, functional and contemporary”. I think this minimizes the case.


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