Furminger Architects designs this home in Brisbane as a metaphor for ruin

Inspired by the idea of creating a presence that lasts, the Chelmer River House presents itself as a home locked in its landscape, much like a future ruin.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Jul 18, 2022

Is a ruin a beginning or an end in itself? Or is it endurance that it silently embraces? A state in which the notion of something being born or lost forever doesn’t exist. What is essentially a reminder of architecture's persistence, a ruin is an entity that thrives on the foundation of memory and meaning. When Brisbane-based builder-turned-architect Christopher Furminger was tasked to reframe an old weatherboard home near the Chelmer River, he sought a contested projection of a dwelling - alluding to a ruin - to shape his design. A lover of landscape and materiality, Furminger converted the home into a large walled garden that sets course for new journeys and connections of architecture with its site.

Imposing heavy concrete walls are erected around an old weatherboard home | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
Imposing heavy concrete walls are erected around an old weatherboard home Image: David Chatfield

Furminger’s approach to the materiality of the Chelmer River House traversed the fact that concrete and earth are familiar materials for the clients who worked as building contractors in the construction industry. His own fondness for structural details, materials and finishes contributed to the final design where one sees a heavy skin of concrete and masonry wrapping the light enclosures of the house.

  • A narrow passageway between the walls paves way for the house’s entrance | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
    A narrow passageway between the walls paves way for the house’s entrance Image: David Chatfield
  • Small gardens sit next to the domestic spaces | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
    Small gardens sit next to the domestic spaces Image: David Chatfield
  • Landscape blurs the edges between the indoor and outdoor realm of the home | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
    Landscape blurs the edges between the indoor and outdoor realm of the home Image: David Chatfield

As one enters into the property and slowly makes way to the home's entrance, the monumentality of form slowly dissipates into the humbleness of small courtyard gardens pulling you into the domestic spaces. The heaviness of concrete and brick transforms into soft green pockets framing different rooms of the home. The idea of locking the home into its landscape, according to Furminger, was to allow nature to slowly reclaim the site as time passes by. The low-lying site with its close proximity to the river will see transformations along the way, however, the hard enclosure's solid presence will ensure that the home is “reduced to only what lasts”.

The built mass is designed as a series of fragmented apartment type dwellings | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
The built mass is designed as a series of fragmented apartment type dwellings Image: David Chatfield

Against a singular solid form of the house, Furminger chose a fragmented volume ensuing architecture’s multiple connecting points to the outdoors. The floor plan reveals a series of small apartment-type dwellings with separate entries, private gardens, and flexible services. “The building," shares the architect, "can be used as a family house, adjusting to change as children grow, as parents age, but equally it may accommodate non-family residents, or those working from home, with an independent office or studio.”

  • Workspace on the ground floor features concrete in conjunction with wooden surfaces | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
    Workspace on the ground floor features concrete in conjunction with wooden surfaces Image: David Chatfield
  • Bathroom overlooking the garden | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
    Bathroom overlooking the garden Image: David Chatfield

The construction of the dwellings follows the use of an inventive tilt up system of precast concrete panels that also ingeniously incorporates the plumbing and electrical services within it. The landscape of the driveway-turned-garden is clad in permeable pavers made using a mix of river stone and planting. Inside the home, timber and nature stone surfaces and textures create a beautiful contrast to the grey coarseness of the outer shell.

The home situates itself in its context as a large walled garden | Chelmer River House | Furminger Architects | STIRworld
The home situates itself in its context as a large walled garden Image: David Chatfield

Furminger developed a synchronous harmony and contrast between the old and the new by using landscape as an equally important entity to the project as the building. Mixing the dexterity of a craftsman, precision of a builder, and the vision of an architect, there has been one more role that he pursued. "Our way of working was more akin to that of a sculptor. It allowed us to change and adapt our design in a more organic way," adds the builder and carpenter-turned-architect.

Steering clear of the conventional image of how a house must look, Furminger’s idea of creating a wall to hide within what is often gloriously shown, is definitely hard to ignore. Could this be the onset of a new wave in residential architecture, we ask?

What do you think?

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