Gray Puksand's Field House in Melbourne deconstructs the concept of space to optimise inside-outside movement and style in the best traditions of Australian living
For architects, the use of space is increasingly a conundrum in urban environments where it has become a premium commodity. As many dwellings inevitably come closer together, how can modern designers work with the areas available to them, and fit, as the old English saying goes, 'a quart into a pint pot'?
Often additional room is achieved by pushing outer walls to boundary limits, increasing the internal space, but reducing exterior grounds. The result: cheek-by-jowl buildings, with no breathing space around them.
One group of architects to have given this catch-22 serious consideration is the Gray Puksand partnership, based in Melbourne. Australia is a country that has more space per capita than anywhere in the world except Greenland, Mongolia and Namibia, but of course most people live in its cities. Melbourne is a thriving, growing metropolis of nearly 5 million; the population is rapidly on the increase and is expected to double by the middle of this century. Even in its suburbs, especially those bounded on one side by water, space is at a premium.
When Robert Puksand, founding partner of Gray Puksand, took the opportunity to build his family home at the beachside suburb of Brighton in the Victorian capital, it
was his chance to deliver on his philosophical and theoretical understanding of space and what it actually means in terms of living in it. Completed last year, Gray Puksand's Field House is the result of the architect's personal exploration of creating space with amorphous architecture that endeavours to overcome the traditional interpretations of 'inside', 'outside' and even 'house'. This is not unusual in Australia, a country famous for open-air living.
However, Puksand has taken the indoor/outdoor concept to the next level. Before embarking on the concept of creating his bold design, Puksand, a past president of the Victorian chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, explored his and our understanding of living spaces. In his research notes for Field House he states: "Our understanding of the universe continues to develop, and one recent view is that stars are not separated by a vacuum, but by substance, dark matter. Similarly, the understanding of our own built environments should also develop, where we consider architectural space, not as the void between objects, but the layer of atmospheric substance through which we move and inhabit, which can be described and quantified."
Puksand looks long and hard at what 'space' means and breaks down the various ways in which it is contained, thereby creating various definitions of its meaning and what's entailed in its exploration. Through his definitions, he looks to create an architecture that is not enclosed or contained, or subject to the limitations of form. His thinking also turns to the use of colour, and the study of artists such as Piet Mondrian of the De Stijl movement and the rectangular floating forms of Mark Rothko with his draughtsman's skills. Puksand says his main inspiration is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's 1929 Barcelona Pavilion, which he likens to "a spaceship in comparison to the others", and also the "sculptural buildings" of Frank Gehry, such as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which Puksand visited soon after it opened 20 years ago. Another building that inspires him is Tours Cathedral in France, a Gothic structure built between 1270 and 1547, with vaulting "vertical elements linking the ground to the heavens". His conclusion is a form of architecture that has no form but is amorphous. "We notice other aspects of the design more intently," he says. "We notice patterns
and rhythms. Our appreciation of space is intensified. We can create oscillations. In an architectural field, oscillations establish an architectural 'score', experienced as our eyes scan between reference points."
PROJECT: Field House
WHERE: Brighton, Victoria, Australia
SIZE: 500 sq-m
CONSTRUCTION COST: A$1,800,000
Photography by © Shannon McGrath
This is an excerpt from the “Urban space-man" article from the September 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.
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