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Griffith House
PROJECTS  /  Griffith House

Griffith House

Location:
NSW
Type:
House
Year:
2014
Architect:
Popov Bass Architects
Photographer:
Kraig Carlstrom

Alex Popov and Brian Bass opted for a stretched, courtyard house facing north-south and mostly closed to the east and west, located on the most elevated spot possible. Built of robust yet exquisitely detailed concrete and masonry, it was designed to create “a human scale place in a wide, big-sky landscape”.

“We found we wanted to make the landscape small enough so that you didn’t feel lost on an endless plain,” Brian says.

Responding to the climate, he says: “The reality is that a lot of the time houses out here must be closed. While a lot of rural Australian architecture is derived from tropical architecture and thrown open, the more valid response here from a climatic point of view is the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean - thick walls, high thermal mass, for houses that can be closed up to keep cool in summer, with courtyards that stay cool.”

First sightings of the Griffith House are of a dramatic three-metre high, 30-metre long concrete wall: a sculptural, heroic element concealing much of the dwelling and acting as a threshold between landscape and interior.

Internally, the house is defined by a series of north-south reaching vaults, containing galleries, spaces and courtyards, intersected by east-west passages. Bedrooms and services are placed along the west and east and living spaces to the north and south, with courtyards dotted between.

Concrete is contrasted with fine timber detailing, and natural lighting is carefully managed though openings, courtyards and tall skylights.

The Griffith House won the 2014 Wilkinson award

It had also  been nominated to contest the national Robin Boyd Award for residential architecture at the Australian Institute of Architects National Architecture Awards in November.

Awards matter – few more in the local world of residential architecture than NSW’s annual Wilkinson Award, presented in Sydney on Thursday night to the “best” new house in the state.

Winning architects are elevated to an elite group of recipients – Glenn Murcutt and Harry Seidler among them – with professional reputations cemented and resale values improved.

As a member of this year’s jury, the onus of determining “best” weighed heavy. Together with fellow jurors Virginia Kerridge, Emili Fox and James Stockwell, we assessed projects from Byron to Congo, Griffith to Bronte; from the delightfully tiny to utterly palatial.

We discussed the whole, and the sum of the parts: orientation, site response, materials, footprint, budget, sustainability, light and, just how joyous (or not) the spaces were.

While several met the above, the masterly Griffith House by Alex Popov and Brian Bass of Popov Bass Architects emerged as this year’s recipient. As jury chair Virginia Kerridge said: “The planning for this house is calm and rational; the overriding sense within is of tranquillity.”

The Brief - The owners were a couple who wanted a family home that could accommodate visiting children and grandchildren, along with their art collection, on a rural residential site outside Griffith.

Challenges - “This was a tough, hard environment,” Brian says.
The site was 11.3 hectares, unremarkable, flood-zoned, and almost dead flat on a red soil plain. Located in a semi-arid climate, it suffered extremes of heat and cold, harsh brilliant light, frequent dust storms, and ever-present flies.

Solution

Alex and Brian opted for a stretched, courtyard house facing north-south and mostly closed to the east and west, located on the most elevated spot possible. Built of robust yet exquisitely detailed concrete and masonry, it was designed to create “a human scale place in a wide, big-sky landscape”.

“We found we wanted to make the landscape small enough so that you didn’t feel lost on an endless plain,” Brian says.

Responding to the climate, he says: “The reality is that a lot of the time houses out here must be closed. While a lot of rural Australian architecture is derived from tropical architecture and thrown open, the more valid response here from a climatic point of view is the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean – thick walls, high thermal mass, for houses that can be closed up to keep cool in summer, with courtyards that stay cool.”

First sightings of the Griffith House are of a dramatic three-metre high, 30-metre long concrete wall: a sculptural, heroic element concealing much of the dwelling and acting as a threshold between landscape and interior.

Internally, the house is defined by a series of north-south reaching vaults, containing galleries, spaces and courtyards, intersected by east-west passages. Bedrooms and services are placed along the west and east and living spaces to the north and south, with courtyards dotted between.

Concrete is contrasted with fine timber detailing, and natural lighting is carefully managed though openings, courtyards and tall skylights.

The Griffith House now goes on to contest the national Robin Boyd Award for residential architecture at the Australian Institute of Architects National Architecture Awards in Darwin in November.

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