Our first site visit to Brighton revealed a condition prevalent in many opulent suburbs. Pleasantly wide and tree lined streets are noticeably inactive. Large blocks are surrounded by two metre high fences extending to the front boundary. With electric gates and off street parking, this ensures that the streets are lacking of the same neighbourhood activity you might find in less affluent suburbs. The condition is a result of the home as ‘compound,’ and so began our fascination with the typology.
While our Compound House is bound by concrete on three sides it does not present itself to the street as a fortress. Instead, the house is set back, offering an uninterrupted sloping field of native grasses to the streetscape. A copper screened upper floor allows obscured views of figured shadows within, and an angled garage door, eludes to being half open. When open, the door reveals uninterrupted views deep into the block, momentarily offering a tantalising view of the entire site and challenging the notion of the ‘back yard’ and private open space.
The Compound deliberately exploits the pluralistic neighbourhood character of Brighton. Neo-Georgian, Mock Tudor, French Provisional, British Mc Mansions, Tuscan Villas, Californian Bungalows, Art Deco and Metricon Modern feature heavily in the nearby streets. The Compound is resilient, resembling a series of stacked elements opposed to the walls and rooflines of a traditional house. The building speaks to the client’s industrial background by exploiting a collection of infrastructural moments. An embankment batter, concrete retaining walls, triangular trusses and copper ribbons commonly found in Busbars complete a language more akin to an ‘oil refinery,’ as one neighbour described it. A comparison we weren’t entirely unhappy with.
From the street, the Compound appears to sit astride a grassy knoll. In fact, it is embedded in its site. Bayside’s strict Schedule 3 to Rescode, combined with the narrowness of the title, resulted in the ground floor sinking one metre into the earth. The submersion of the building on the Southern boundary allows Northern light throughout the day and informs a fence. Bound by concrete retaining walls it creates the feeling of an outside room. The precast and insitu concrete walls ground the building as a base, onto which six oversized steel trusses are precariously placed. The members reach out to the northern boundary, reinforcing the connection between interior and exterior, and allowing a deciduous vine to be trained along its catenary wires.
The first floor is a monolithic rectangular box positioned atop the trusses, and offset to create an eave for the living areas below. Inside, the sleeping quarters are veiled in a copper screen inspired by the regularly irregular nature of a bamboo blind.
The Compound house is an adventurous project, averting style in lieu of an exploration into light and shadow, form, texture, clutter, order, chaos, the rational and the random. Just wait until you see the basement.
Photography by Peter Bennetts.