Balmoral House

Samy Mansour
Thursday 26 Jun 2008

Brisbane based architects take inspiration from the Europeans to create Balmoral House

Owen & Vokes reaction to the setting of an existing Queenslander - a site which is heavily overlooked by 5 neighbouring properties - led to the construction of a facade that idealises the setting for new rooms accommodating a bathhouse, stair room, guest room, family room and a writer's studio. The principal orientation of these rooms is manipulated towards the canopy of large trees to the north, and views of neighbouring houses are edited from key moments of occupation in the new rooms, framing backyard landscape compositions with carefully positioned apertures and orchestrated lines of sight. Predominant use of solid wall on the eastern elevation minimises morning summer sun penetration and glare, and avoids unnecessary heating of the building.

With an ongoing interest in room making, they questioned how the new facade may conceal or reveal the arrangement of rooms and the building's cross section, and conversely, how the nature of rooms directly behind the facade may inform its elevational composition. With this they drew on both the formal devices of Palladio and the latent spatial complexity and silent facades of Loos as inspiration.

Palladio's elevated Villa Foscari in Malcontenta provided answers to their topographically challenged ambition to engage the rear garden and ground plane of the steep terrain, and as such the building re-enacts the promenade sequence from Piano Nobile to the garden at Malcontenta. Unlike more literal and widely used strategies for connectivity with the outdoors, for example a continuous floor plane, O&V employed a promenade to effectively place the occupant en-route to or from the garden once inside the stair room. As such, circulation through the new works is undeniably connected to the garden.

Formal compositions and fenestration in the facade suggest possible room planning behind, only to prove ambiguous and adding to a reticence seemingly appropriate in suburbia where privacy holds currency.

The ordering logic of the facade provides little explanation of the subtle complexity of the building's cross section and the latent hierarchy of rooms. For example, the large gaping opening (which could be Palladio's thermal window) suggests a large or public room behind, however one discovers a stair room. Furthermore, the same large opening cannot be closed-off to undesirable weather conditions, reinforcing the coalescence of the stair (promenade) and nature (garden).

The application of Loos' room planning technique assisted in optimising the tall volume deploying rooms over effectively 3 levels in what is constrained by authorities as a 2 storey structure - reminding us of the story of Loos' Villa Mueller in Prague.

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