FALLEN – ISSUE 10
Kara Allen & Lauren Whiffen
Editors/Creative Directors – FALLEN
In the year 2100, the mainland of Australia will be connected to Tasmania via a grand infrastructure project. Spanning Hobart to Melbourne, the umbilical bridge will act as a spine for high-speed transit, allowing hyper-connectivity for personal, commercial and agricultural commodities. It will initiate new urban centers, thereby reformatting the densification of urban sprawl and altering economical, ecological, cultural and political networks of both mainland and island state. Furthermore, the linear passage will have the ability to recycle waste and harvest energy.
This is Island Proposition 2100; the vision of young architectural practice Room11, developed in partnership with Zurich-based Australians Scott Lloyd and Katrina Stoll. “The core idea was connecting regions together; we feel that if you truly want to be sustainable, there needs to be this regional connectivity,” says Aaron Roberts, co-director of Room11. Although prospective in nature, the project – which was exhibited at the 2010 Venice Biennale – attempted to clarify the urban dichotomy of connecting the disconnected.
Although such technologies may seem nestled in the future, the underlying concept of this project is ingrained within Room11’s mantra and embedded in their completed work. For this band of four friends – Thomas Bailey, Nathan Crump, Aaron Roberts and James Wilson – their focus is adding value to the daily experience of all those affected by their work. “With architecture”, says Aaron, “there’s a sense that you’re creating an experience; you’re making people happy on a day-to-day basis. You’re potentially positively changing the way that people live and interact with one another and the world around them.”
With such grand responsibilities, the Room11 team keeps it real by producing projects that are thoughtful and responsive to the human condition. “So essentially we are using architecture as a veil to which you experience these particular places that you’re residing in, and we’re interested in having an emotional connection to place and to space,” says Aaron.
The Allens Rivulet House 2, which along with Little Big House scored three Royal Australian Institute of Architecture (RAIA) Tasmanian Chapter 2011 awards, is a beautiful example of their humble, contextual and uplifting architecture. This house is viewed from the exterior as a black object receding into the landscape, bracing itself from the unpredictable Tasmanian elements. Its toughened armour cocoons the interior space, and is only dissected at one point to reveal the entry. Here the materiality is softened to honey-coloured timber, which adds warmth and embraces the notion of threshold. “ARH2 is an example where you come home and you’re enveloped in a timber portal, which I saw as a marker to demarcate you arriving home or leaving the home,” says Aaron. “And I was hoping that this sort of moment that you go through the portal is a particularly olfactory experience; the landscape is completely taken away from you … and there’s a forced moment of self awareness and then through the veil of architecture you’re sort of transported back into this other method of being.” Glazing and fenestration, voids, and linked external areas percolate the outdoors through the building, and an expansive living space encourages a point of repose and sanctuary.
Similarly, the Little Big House successfully uses materiality and linear planning to define space, experience, and a heightened connection to environment. Built on the slopes of Mount Wellington high above Hobart, this house is a study in efficient living; the low-impact footprint is deliberately tight, the flexible planning is deceptively simple, and the material selection is economic yet innovative in its choice. The rectilinear dwelling is stacked across two levels to match the undulating alpine terrain, reducing the building footprint and thereby minimising in-ground construction works and maximising sun and light infiltration. Locally sourced celery-top pine and translucent polycarbonate cladding enables the house to be concurrently luminous and private. “The way the danpalon on the outside of the building filters light, it amplifies the volume in a way or contracts the volume, depending on what’s happening with the sun and the clouds,” explains Aaron. The project successfully attempts to answer the first-world problem of how might our residencies become more sustainable, an effort that was recognised with a commendation at the recent RAIA National Awards.
While Room11’s residential designs may appear rational and pared back, they avoid the archetype of the austere modern box. This is achieved through the gradation and playfulness of space and volume, and the punctuation of the building skin, which invites the exterior to enrich the user’s experience of interior. “At the end of the day we don’t want to be super prescriptive in terns of how the architecture might be experienced or used,” says Aaron. “But in the same breath we’re trying to be very strong and blunt in the way that we’re creating these volumes, because at the end of they day if you don’t do that the gesture can get lost.”
Room11’s oeuvre has been broadened with their expansion from the rogue colonial outpost of Tasmania to Melbourne. In additional to residencies, their projects encompass multi-residential apartments, affordable modular housing, medical centers and galleries. Although varied in scope and budget, Room11 endevour to maintain their design philosophies from project to project: increasing the variety of experience within a space; exploring the concepts of protection and exposure; and allowing the landscape to witness the architecture, rather than the other way around.
Despite Room11’s affinity for natural landscapes that have defined their early successes, the studio is keen to expand the discourse of its practice. “….we’re going through a point now where we’re trying to re-imagine what that might be and re-imagine how the practices might work together between Melbourne and Hobart,” says Aaron. Self-directed experimental architecture, critical thinking, and collaborative and speculative work, both between trans Tasman studios and with other creatives – which in the past has included installations with artists and fashion designers – is key to the future Room11 narrative. “I think that one of the great things about architecture,” reflects Aaron, “is that with every new project there is actually the opportunity to renew both yourself and the way you think, and the way you practice……”