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Shadow play: Hawthorn House, Victoria, Australia, by Edition Office

AR House awards 2019 shortlisted: Perhaps harsh and impersonal from the outside, the Hawthorn House in Victoria by Edition Office is open and expansive within, engendering a strong sense of privacy

In many cities around the world, inner suburban regions are gridded with townhouses that proliferate, often characterised by constructs of urbanity. With their house in Hawthorn, Melbourne, Edition Office focused on creating an escape from the neighbouring suburban context by introducing the brutalist harshness of concrete volumes, or ‘shrouds’ as they call them, which nevertheless hide a delicate relationship with light and the landscape.

The house appears from behind the timber perimeter fence made from recycled shuttering in which the concrete walls of the house were cast. The two conjoined structures stand out with their box-like form, offering no insight into the goings-on within. Yet despite this silence, when the shadows of nature rest on its surface, the concrete feels rich and alive. The family home fills most of the site, with a relaxed landscape design which allows elements of the vegetation to remain prominent, with the canopy of three preserved trees hovering above.

‘Uncluttered elevations haven’t allowed for windows or openings, providing an intense sense of privacy, but instead large sliding doors open to internal courtyards’

Integral to the design are the arched elements of the concrete shells on the ground floor. The architects state that these ‘evolved as a method of structurally supporting the house with its own skin’. Between the arches but deliberately offset, glass walls curtain the internal spaces, the spaces within flooded with natural light.

The programme on the ground floor does not focus on a specified ‘heart’: instead, with a walkway between the structures, there is a playful loop of circulation that connects the living room and laundry in the smaller west pavilion, and the dining and kitchen spaces in the east pavilion. The plans are open and expansive, the staircase in each pavilion acting as pivot for its internal spaces. Though completely open, and offering views from one end of the site to the other, the spaces feel personal, the plan taut.

The master bedroom and a study are located above the living room in the smaller ‘shroud’, and in the larger, two en-suite bedrooms share the first floor with a family room. The uncluttered elevations haven’t allowed for windows or openings in the concrete, providing an intense sense of privacy, but instead large sliding doors flanking the rooms open up into private courtyards, inviting the sky and natural light into the privacy of the home. This is where the refined design decisions come to the forefront. The courtyards also cross-ventilate the rooms, and plants placed within them maintain the sensitive connection to the external environment and co-existence with nature, reinforced by the use of timber finishes and furniture internally.

Crop ar house shortlist edition office

Crop ar house shortlist edition office

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The two floors of Hawthorn House contrast greatly in feel, although not in a manner that disrupts the overall execution of the project. Inevitably, questions can be asked as to whether Hawthorn House is a good neighbour, but from the inhabitants’ perspective it is doubtless a thoughtful and successful response to its site. It may not be a replicable housing model but this was never meant to be the case; instead, Edition Office chose to place emphasis on recalibrating the narrative of architecture’s role in landscape.

All photographs by Ben Hosking

The AR July/August issue on AR House + Social housing is available to buy here

Samson Séyí Famusan is an alumnus of the New Architecture Writers (N.A.W.), which is a free programme for emerging design writers, developing the journalistic skill, editorial connections and critical voice of its participants. N.A.W. focuses on black and minority ethnic emerging writers who are under-represented across design journalism and curation. N.A.W. was founded in 2017 by Phineas Harper and Tom Wilkinson with the Architecture Foundation and the Architectural Review and you can read more about it here



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