Grand Designs Australia

Port Melbourne Urban Green

Resident architecture expert, David Hallett from Ask An Architect, gives us his opinion on The Port Melbourne Urban Green house from Episode 5, Season 5 of Grand Designs Australia.

This house presents me with something of a challenge.

My head loves it – a truly original design that almost defies description. As an architect, I can’t help but admire anyone with the courage of their convictions and the willingness to trust their architect to create something absolutely unique. This is a special building.

My heart, however, feels for the neighbours. Landed within a labyrinth of modest, century-old dock-workers cottages, this house is clearly of another dimension in every sense – time, scale and aesthetic. It’s an imposing building.

Perhaps if I think aloud for a bit…

Context is in the eye of the beholder. Setting aside a sycophantic ‘replica’ approach – which often betrays more money than sense – context is difficult to define, particularly in an architecturally diverse area.  Should the design of a building respond to the scale, rhythm and forms of an earlier time or should it be unapologetically of its own time?

Many people are confronted by innovation and argue for buildings that are respectful, discreet and unobtrusive, as Ian and Ann’s 2-year Planning Permit procurement perhaps attests. Few embrace change, but there is an argument that suggests a bold, contemporary building actually accentuates the character of historic neighbours. Google ‘Louvre Pyramid’ to see a famous example of this approach…or visit Port Melbourne to see another one.

Perhaps imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery.

Water tanks aren’t usually disposed as decoration, even in the most devoutly sustainable buildings. Typically they’re hidden or buried – along with sundry other services and structural elements – but not here. Here they’re used to overtly express a desire for self-sufficiency and – more practically – to create insulative mass and a water supply for the roof and wall vegetation.

For me, it’s the vertical gardens that will ultimately define this building. Unlike the celebrated Centre Pompidou, for example, its aesthetic isn’t simply about expressing the components of a building. This house was naked at birth but will soon be clothed in a negligee of vines that will tease and tantalize viewers for years.

Perhaps timelessness is the measure of a good building.

Ultimately though, this is a home, so it shouldn’t be measured by its contribution to the streetscape or the opinions of others. A concealed entry in an apparently impenetrable façade gradually reveals a warm, welcoming and light-filled interior that reaches its crescendo in an exposed rooftop terrace.

I don’t know whether this makes it a contemporary Italianate villa but it is a bold experiment, as many of the best buildings are.

Perhaps my heart loves it after all.

Visit Ask An Architect for more information.

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