by Jerry ElengicalJun 17, 2022
Can the essence of a form that is almost unanimously viewed as a modern icon be interpreted, deconstructed, and refashioned to suit another distinct context without producing bland homogeneity that possesses no sense of place? Or does true beauty arise solely from the search for elegant, responsive solutions to the need of the hour? Australian architecture practice Rob Mills Architecture + Interiors (RMA), and property developer Beulah tackled certain angles of this quandary in their latest residential architecture project - Fawkner House in Melbourne, Australia, which draws from the punched and moulded forms of Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut (also known as Ronchamp Chapel) in Ronchamp, France.
Despite seemingly sharing a common design vocabulary in certain respects, the two buildings are located in drastically different contexts. As the newer structure between the two, Fawkner House finds its place in the coveted Domain Precinct locality of South Yarra, an inner suburb of Melbourne that is said to be one of the city’s most prestigious pockets of real estate. On the other hand, the Ronchamp Chapel sits at the crest of Bourlémont hill, between the Vosges and Jura Mountain ranges, on the site of an earlier chapel that had been severely damaged during the Second World War. A far cry from the luxurious peri-urban locale of South Yarra, the hill is now a landmark for cultural tourism, surrounded by supplementary structures designed by French architect Jean Prouvé and Renzo Piano.
While the chapel is a retreat for silent meditation, Fawkner House hosts nine large-scale residential units that are afforded pristine views of Fawkner Park in its vicinity. The latter structure’s striking façade design evokes the most identifiable qualities of its progenitor: including the distinctive concave enclosing walls that turn inwards on themselves. Facing Toorak Road, the structure’s front edifice was designed to present the image of a grand residence, much like other structures in its vicinity - instead of a suite of luxury apartments. A subtle helping of landscape design along the façade serves to ground the structure in nature while infusing a burst of green into the monochrome exterior.
As Corbusier’s original scheme was based on his own anthropometric measurement system referred to as the ‘Modulor,’ the proportions of the Ronchamp Chapel have been tailored to suit the human scale. This intense attention to proportion also reveals itself in some of the organic protrusions on Fawkner House’s exterior, whose profiles evoke the billowing roof structure that crowns the chapel. Further influences are evident in the light concrete texture on the façade - even though the walls of the Ronchamp Chapel were actually made of stone and finished with roughcast plaster.
Smooth curves also find their way into the lobby and other interior spaces within the residence design. “There are many reasons we are fond of curves in our work, but the most prevalent is the way energy and light naturally flow when intersections are rounded and softened. It leads to fewer shadows, and light is obviously something else we are known for in our designs,” says Australian architect Rob Mills, Creative Director of RMA, in an official statement. Intricately carved interior walls with refined finishes and convex skylights exemplify this underlying theme in the practice's work, initially encountered in the lobby. Their inclusion is possibly a fresh take on the punched windows and use of counter-relief in the Ronchamp Chapel’s interior, which is famed for its clarity, austerity, and use of light.
The floor of the residential building’s triple-height atrium contains a circular section of Calacatta Viola marble, whose bold, textured veining fills the space with hues of rich burgundy, delicate white, and stark grey. As per the architects, each of the entry doors was designed by RMA for Pittella, a supplier of Italian-designed door and bathroom fittings. The entry pulls fixed to them were fabricated in a matte black finish in Italy, and complemented by curved bronze entry lights.
Apartments inside the building are grand in their scope and scale, with open layouts featuring an interior design scheme that is seamless, aiming to achieve a timeless quality with neutral tones. Adelene Teh, Executive Director of Beulah, shares in a press release: “As with each of our projects, we are considerate in our approach to design and endeavour to achieve the best possible results. In the case of Fawkner House, this meant reducing the number of residences in order to create a highly curated design that put functionality at the forefront.” She continues, “The original permit allowed for 48 small apartments, however, recognising the prestige of the area, we reconfigured the design to instead create nine monumental residences over four levels. The result is both an architectural legacy for the Domain Precinct, and a series of residences to be enjoyed for generations.”
Natural stone slabs, handpicked by the design team, have been used to dress the benchtops in the kitchen and pantry while custom hand-stained timber floors add warmth to spaces at the heart of the home. Kitchens are also equipped with a walk-in butler’s pantry, an under-bench wine fridge, and a wide range of appliances by Gaggenau, to entice residents towards exploring their culinary inclinations. Hand-stained veneer cabinetry has been fitted into the walk-in closets within the master bedrooms, while their ensuite bathrooms are dressed with natural stone tiling.
Lush gardens by Australian landscape designer Paul Bangay frame the views of the parkland, positioning the building as a suburban oasis of calm respite from the bustle of the city. Although Fawkner House’s similarities to Corbusier’s famed exploration into religious architecture are confined to its form, façade, and fenestrations, it might be safe to assume that the project team has delivered a landmark new address within this distinguished neighbourhood of suburban Melbourne.