location: Floreat, Perth, Western Australia | architecture: Neil Cownie | interior design: Neil Cownie | photography: Michael Nicholson – MICNIC
Says architect Neil Cownie: ‘In searching for the unique attributes of the site for Roscommon House, I looked to the history of the suburb – its town planning, architecture – and the ideals of the original subdivision for direction in creating a new home with a strong sense of belonging.
‘With a significant legacy of modernist and brutalist buildings still remaining in this suburb, I felt a responsibility to produce a design that served the needs and desires of my clients and that would be in conversation with the overall ethos, without mimicking or replicating the past.
‘So, the design was informed by studying the devices and forms of the original buildings in the area. These revealed a consideration for the environment, plus orientation, a simplicity of strong form, transparency and an honest modesty to be consistent. This was a regionally distinctive architectural modernism independent from the rest of Australia.’
In keeping with the Garden Suburb history here, landscaping blurs the boundaries of inside and out with the use of pocket courtyards and roof terrace gardens. The spatial arrangement of these courtyards is also driven by environmental concerns; the building is teased apart to maximise winter solar penetration and to capture prevailing, cool southwest breezes. The site orientation and plan also provide north-facing living spaces, which maximise opportunities for cross ventilation.
Along with the passive solar design, the front roof conceals a 16.5kW photovoltaic array comprising 50 panels, which allows the house to be self-sufficient insofar as energy. Timbers and finishes within were sourced from sustainable resources in a build that was designed to reduce energy and water consumption over its projected long lifespan. The selection of long-lasting, low maintenance materials contributes thermal mass, maintaining stable internal temperatures regardless of the season. Insulation – both thermal and acoustic – benefitting interior comfort throughout the year.
‘Finishes were chosen for their modesty and their ability to age gracefully as the house endures and all reflect the ethos of seeking beauty from imperfection,’ adds Cownie.
‘My clients’ brief specifically referred to a desire to use grey off-form shuttered concrete walls and ceilings. I felt that this was an appropriate starting point given the history of the suburb and the fact that the area contained a number of modernist buildings, including Perth’s first off-form concrete structure.
‘The clients’ desire for a grey concrete home was an architect’s dream come true until I realised that I had to create an end product that was warm and welcoming. This led to the layering of other materials, such as the timber wall and ceiling cladding to add a feeling of warmth to the grey shell palette. It was important to ensure that these elements were used in appropriate measures to achieve a balance; the same logic applies to the limited use of brass in wall panels and edge trims. This thread pulls everything together.
‘The curved forms take their cue from a local, iconic beachfront building and the concrete roofs to the rear of the house display similar curves. This led to the curved form being introduced throughout in corners, voids, ceilings and cabinetry.
‘At another level, the building takes reference from the architects that inspired the original modernist buildings within the suburb, such as Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier. Corbusier’s use of coloured glass at Ronchomp is an obvious reference point; and his primary colours at La Tourette were an influence in the choice of indigo blue for some walls within the house, along with shades of contrasting red.’
This house was a global finalist and has won 10 Australian design awards. What is the basis of the considerable success of its design?
Says Neil Cownie: ‘The fact that I had the opportunity for a holistic design approach is key. The architecture, interior design / furnishings and the custom design of several items resulted in architecture that’s in conversation with its contents. Consistently emphasising the key ethos for the house: the history of its location, seeking beauty from imperfection and an emphasis on the handmade has led to spaces with a strong sense of belonging.
‘I felt challenged in making selections for the built form and the interior that would ultimately sit comfortably together. With an overwhelming grey palette as the main backdrop, I deliberately chose vibrant fabrics for the furniture. Their forms also needed to work with the architecture, so I sourced pieces that had fluid, rounded shapes. I think that it’s the consistency of purpose throughout all aspects – the exterior, interior and its décor – that has created an exceptional sense of individuality.’