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Australia is a wonderful breeding-ground of excellent houses. This one is a panoply of picturesque events, carefully attuned to the almost tropical climate of Brisbane.

Just as Frank Lloyd Wright defined the US Midwest with his Prairie houses, so in a way have Murcutt and his imitators come to many of us to symbolize an architecture completely of Australia -- touching the ground lightly in a primeval landscape. Yet both societies, 100 years apart, are neither prairie nor primeval but solidly suburban, sometimes quite densely so; indeed, paradoxically Australia is one of the most suburban countries in the world.

It comes therefore as a startling and refreshing change to view this highly sophisticated European-oriented house in the inner suburbs of Brisbane by the young practice of Donovan Hill. A product of the fertile and internationally inclined Queensland University School, they are a practice of catholic interests, voracious in their influences.

In a way, the house is from another era: four years in construction, a few hand-picked tradesmen, a client with plenty of money, time, faith and patience. Made for a bachelor and a successful concrete contractor, the house is fashioned from his own material, cast concrete, designed and executed with astonishing virtuosity. Almost every trick of texture and finish is employed to create a rich palette of experiences in bright tropical sunshine. Sitting on top of the concrete like a Tibetan temple are beautifully crafted timber constructions, lattice-work shades, sliding screens, windows and doors, meticulously detailed to be indistinguishable from the finest furniture.

Up on its hill, the design inflates a modest programme to fill the suburban plot. In section, a piano nobile is established, reached by a grand and eventful promenade from below. In plan, the house is pushed to the rear of the site and the perceived bulk is massively expanded by the device of a centrally placed double-height outdoor room. A series of internal framed views across this space results with the picturesque Brisbane CBD skyline in the distance, seen across a garden or across the pool in the foreground.

The plan, essentially of rooms with particular relationships to each other and the outside, sets up a whole series of individual and unexpected revelations, in particular the use of strong tropical sunlight, which is filtered and captured and manipulated in a kaleidoscope of devices. The massive cantilever to the front is inhabited with a further extended 'nest', a shady bower, and extensions of kitchen and living room. The torrential tropical downpours are animated through quirky spitters. Every opportunity is exploited and elaborated into that Arts and Crafts idea, the Gesamtkunstwerk, the complete work of art.

It is a rich confection, finely wrought, impeccably detailed and thoroughly astonishingly sensuous experience. Clearly Donovan Hill is a practice to watch: whether such an early tour de force can be built upon remains to be seen.


Donovan Hill Architects

Project team

Brian Donovan, Timothy Hill, Fedor Medek, Michael Hogg

Structural and civil engineers

Mattefy Perl Nagy


Donovan Hill Architects with Butler & Webb


Jim Evans


Anthony Browell

1. A beautifully crafted timber house sitting on a massive concrete base, like a floating Tibetan temple. The architects say that they have fashioned the place into 'a series of overlapping sub-sites'.

2. Looking north-west with bedroom in foreground, and sitting pavilion beyond.

3. Kitchen opening through sliding screens onto outdoor room (left).

4. Exquisite detailing: cane wrapped handles an antipodean reflection on Aalto.

5. The bulk of the house is at the back, uphill end of the site, approached by a grand and eventful promenade.

6. The magnificent double-height outdoor room with masonry that has learned from Wright.

7. North-east side of outdoor room, with stair down to pool. The sun shines from the north in the antipodes.
COPYRIGHT 1999 EMAP Architecture
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Article Details
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Next Article:LEARNING FROM THE JAPANESE CITY: West meets East in Urban Design.

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