Feature | Landscape | Residential

Garden House by Baracco Wright Architects. Photograph by Lisa Atkinson.

In their curatorial statement as directors of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects closed with an Ancient Greek proverb: a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in. Their thematic, Freespace, calls for architects to ‘sustain the fundamental capacity of architecture to nurture and support a meaningful impact between people and place.’ Recently appointed as the creative directors of the Australian pavilion, Baracco Wright Architects in collaboration with artist Linda Tregg, respond with an exhibition titled Repair.

Comprised of predominantly of non-architectural content, Repair will consist of an installation of endangered native Australian grassland species, coupled with projections of architectural projects. The exhibition advocates for the convergence of natural and built systems, an approach to architectural thinking that recognizes its use of land and engagement with it. Any act of repair must engage with its context. To repair is to stitch together, care for, mend, patch; these are all actions which require working with existing conditions, where the content of the project emerges from the site’s own renewal. As a process it requires a commitment to understanding context, and for Baracco Wright means working within broader natural systems. Rather than beginning with the thought of a building or object, their design process places site at the center of the operation.

The structure becomes inhabited by the surrounding landscape. Photograph by Lisa Atkinson.

Garden House completed in 2016 is one such project. Sited in Western Port on the peninsula south of Melbourne, this small holiday home expresses architecture’s ability to engage with large systems and ideas through modest means. The proposal rehabilitates the site through the expansion of remnant patches of indigenous planting, with a simple shed-like dwelling nestled in a small clearing. Open to the elements, flora grows in and around the structure, built to be consumed by the landscape surrounding it.

“It offers the user a close connection with its landscape and seasonal conditions, a high level of natural amenity, perhaps even satisfying an innate biophillia.” Baracco Wright Architects

Blurring of interior and exterior space. Photograph by Lisa Atkinson.

Baracco Wright mapped the natural conditions of the site over a period of 230 years, framing the building’s existence as fleeting in comparison to the enduring ecological systems in which it sits. The structure was sited where the least amount of growth was possible, the positioning of the building was secondary to the vegetation of the site. The dwelling is conceived more as a shelter or tent than a house, even the way it was sited parallels an experience of camping, searching for a clearing to stay for the night. The open structure brings the external environment within, where one experiences the diurnal temperatures, or the time of day through the transparent cladding; the surrounding environment is always present. Using an off-the-shelf system, the building produced minimal waste and little disturbance to the geography of the site in its construction. The building at the end of its life can be unbolted and packed away, and like a tent, the site would exist as if it were never there.

Site map 228 years ago. Image by Baracco Wright Architects.

Proposed site map. Image by Baracco Wright Architects.

The elementary polycarbonate form encloses a floating deck, with the natural ground plane continuing underneath. In times of flood water enters freely into the structure, as does the surrounding vegetation, which increasingly inhabits the interior over time. The floating deck provides a single surface where rituals of the everyday take place, with a floating mezzanine for sleeping. There are no solid walls, and the perimeter can be entirely opened up with large sliding doors. The extremely simple structure is a quietly radical design, dissecting the typical dwelling through the removal of all walls, displacement of the floor and eliminating the expected demarcation between interior and exterior.

Floating deck and mezzanine. Photograph by Lisa Atkinson.

Large sliding doors create a porous perimeter. Photograph by Lisa Atkinson.

This tiny project demonstrates architectures potential as a strategy of repair, where building begins with care of the landscape and a conversation with site. Baracco Wright’s Garden House and forthcoming exhibition Repair move from architecture as object to an operational device, an agent among many others that may act in the repair of our environment.

Photograph by Lisa Atkinson.

Floor Plan. Image by Baracco Wright Architects.

Section. Image by Baracco Wright Architects.


CITYWestern Point Bay
ARCHITECTBaracco Wright Architects