by Jerry ElengicalDec 11, 2021
Emerging as a dark, recessive shadow from the rich green textures of its hinterland setting in the village of Federal, New South Wales, Australia, Edition Office’s Federal House was designed as a conduit for the interaction between ‘site and modifier'. Rooting itself into the site as a structure that both influences and contradicts its context by virtue of its very presence, the residence serves as both an experiential vessel and transformative object, “cultivating a heightened phenomenological encounter with its hinterland surroundings", as mentioned by the architects in an official statement. Dark timber battens dress the exterior envelope and imbue texture and organic material gestures to an otherwise austere edifice which exhibits characteristics of machined tectonics. Hence, Federal House’s location, combined with its restrained material palette, together bring the structure into sharp relief amid its surroundings.
The architects relay, "Discussions with the client focused upon providing a home-as-a-sanctuary; an elemental respite from a high-pressure professional life.” Sweeping cantilevers project over the grassy plains from the angled concrete architectural block at the base of the structure, serving as a sort of pedestal upon which the recessed form of the upper level rests. The home’s placement on land that was once settled by the Bundjalung people, is like a foreign imposition that deliberately contrasts the heritage of its context. Furthermore, the origin of the residence's design, as explained by Edition Office, is “a reverberation of the settler colonial homestead typology, which carries verandah DNA into a tightly controlled envelope, allowing modestly scaled living and bedrooms spaces to expand into a covered outdoor living space.”
On approaching the structure, the deep black pigmented concrete of the base is replaced by a façade design composed of a louvred screen terminating in a gently sloping roof supported by a simple truss - the fifth exterior edifice. The team at Edition Office shares, “Through the prospect and refuge relationship to its site, the home provides an intimate proximity to the hillside, forest and grassland to the rear, while framing a panoramic gaze across the distant horizon from deep within the heavily inset living platform.”
At the entrance, situated along the western façade, a flourish of vegetation bursts forth from the floor, as a counterpoint to the dark materiality of bounding walls. This planted void at the heart of the structure allows visitors to catch a glimpse of the subterranean pool below, through a mass of ferns. The deep sense of enclosure felt while descending along the staircase to the level below is a stark contrast to the openness above it, enhanced by a transition from the light materiality in the interior design above to heavy massing on the floor beneath. A mirrored horizon along the still water draws the eye towards the pool’s edge. The space’s cavernous volume is almost reminiscent of a freshwater swimming hole rather than a conventional lap pool. “Discussions with the client which drew from texts by Zumthor, Tanizaki and Pallasmaa, allowed the journey into this atypical condition and they must be applauded for venturing into the unknown here,” notes Edition Office.
A vast verandah winds around the functional spaces on the upper floor, creating a gradient of shadows between the inner and outer thresholds, to accentuate the feeling of retreating and disconnecting from the surroundings within the residence’s architecture. This allows inhabitants to intimately experience the region’s variable weather phenomena while shielded from extreme conditions by the verandah space. Intermittent expansion and contraction of the passage and the spaces attached to it create delineations of private and public, or 'immediate landscape and expansive landscape'.
By contrast, the functional areas are conspicuously divided between the northern and southern edges of the structure to create layered opportunities for social interaction, and create links through the ferns and garden. On the other hand, the arrangement of sleeping and bathing spaces along the eastern wing generates an enclave of withdrawal and seclusion. Moderately-sized interior rooms support the use of the larger more expansive halls as semi-outdoor spaces, conditioned by natural ventilation and passive cooling techniques. This is essentially the premise throughout most of the structure, with large bays of louvre windows that permit warm air infiltrating the structure to exchange heat and cool over the surface of the body of water on the lower level. Highly insulated 190mm stud walls and the 200mm timber batten screen along the western terrace contribute to the passive climate control within the residence.
Federal House also incorporates sustainable design features such as on-site wastewater treatment and roof water harvesting. The generous cantilevers in the façade were created with the aid of heavily workshopped engineering, to retain the sense of lightness they exhibit. Bespoke recessed downlights, door pulls, and super heavy-weight gates alongside restrained wood finishes in the kitchen and joinery are a testament to the curated material sensibility developed by the makers and fabricators, allowing for greater investment in the black pigmented concrete finishes which are the real driving force behind the innate sense of poetry in the home’s spaces. Addressing the core parameter driving the design, the architects conclude, “Federal House provides a vessel through which to enable habitation and the ongoing experience of a particular place and time, consciously aware of its outsider status within the traditional ownership and legacy of this landscape.”
Name: Federal House
Location: Federal, New South Wales, Australia
Year of Completion: 2020
Gross Built Area: 424 sqm
Architect: Edition Office
Lead Designers: Kim Bridgland, Aaron Roberts
Landscape Designer: Florian Wild
Structural Engineer: Westera Partners
Builder: SJ Reynolds Constructions