James Russell maximises an inner-city void to build his home and architectural practice’s office. Photography by Jon Linkins
On meeting James Russell in the busy inner-city suburb of Fortitude Valley, he is keen to underline that ‘the images of this place are not crash hot’. The tightness of the site, combined with Brisbane’s strong sunlight, plays havoc with light levels. Furthermore the project has never been (and perhaps never will be) officially complete and ready for a glossy photo shoot. As with most self-funded, self-initiated, self-build projects, time is not always such a big deal.
Acquiring the site after returning from a working sabbatical, Russell and his wife have developed it in a piecemeal manner, as funds and domestic necessity have dictated. Initially living in the church itself (a 19th-century heritage-listed building, now restored and used as a furniture showroom), there have been three key phases, in the form of discrete new-build additions on pockets of land around the perimeter.
First came a single-storey pavilion facing the street, which houses a café, and Russell’s current home, an ingenious 5.6m-wide stilted 190m² structure centred on a delightful elevated grass courtyard on a narrow site to the south. Secondly came this curious wedge-shaped structure, the official office and socialising space for James Russell, Architect.
Russell is keen to keep his practise small, but this does not mean he only wants to work on private domestic projects. As Russell’s own built manifesto shows, also enjoys the challenge of gritty urban situations.
The office consists of three levels: a masonry cellar (built by the coolest brickies in Brisbane, Elvis & Rose), a transparent meeting place (with screens rising up from the base), and an open-air elevated timber working platform (with a perimeter desk for four workstations).
‘The intent behind the design was to explore a model for office development that maximises inner-city voids as site,’ explains Russell. ‘It is also an investigation into methods of occupation within the public and private realm. We work under an open sky, we gather on the lane, and read and drink within the ground’
The cellar houses books, wine and a card table, and is accessed by ladder. The office is reached via a steep slender stair that sits between the church and buttress. Highly provisional, charming and functional, glazed awnings and a weatherproof curtain allow the office to retreat in harsh weather, when it comes.