House Magazine Issue 93: Wallington Residence

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Architecture is rarely, if ever, free to do as it pleases. Countless hours spent synthesizing the competing and often conflicting demands of the brief, site and budget into a built form that is at once beautiful and practical, and which does what the client has asked of it, typically go unnoticed. Once the building is occupied, the success of long-agonized-over decisions is measured by how quickly they are taken for granted.

In Wallington, tucked in behind a screen of pines off the gunbarrel highway between Geelong and Queenscliff in Victoria, Sophie Dyring and Graeme Gunn of Gunn Dyring Architects have gone above and beyond to distil a complex set of requests into a refined, almost diagrammatic depiction of their brief. The clients, two very active, practising CPs in the Gcelong area well into their seventies, tasked their architects with creating a home that would cater to their advancing years, be as easy to maintain as possible and be passed down through future generations. For many architects this might have meant acting upon a preconceived notion of what a semi-rural retirement property might be, but here, the specifics of the brief have fundamentally shaped the architects' entire approach.

The nature of the arrival to this project plays no small part in its allure. After exiting the dead boring, high-speed highway, you immediately find yourself ensconced in scrubby coastal vegetation and taken up a winding dirt road to a dearing in which the house sits - timeless, solid and exuding a strange calm. All this takes place within two minutes. The design is essentially a silhouette of the archetypal "house," extruded, sliced off and joined to create a series of wings that shelter the entry courtyard from prevailing winds. Clad singularly in slate, the mass is goes beyond being a typical assemblage of materials to become an object of pure and mysterious beauty, with extraneous detail pared back to promote the idea of the house as a diagram of the vernacular. The cladding also answers the clients' primary question about how maintenance could be substantially abolished, given the slate will never need treating and is guaranteed for seventy-five years. Entry into the home is through one of two neatly detailed wintergardens - surgically precise clefts in the building mass that appear to have been stitched together in glass. This "pulling apart" of the form has multiple benefits. One is the creation of a psychological and actual threshold between shared and private areas, which gives a more intimate and tactile experience of the slate lining the interior, and also marks the division in plan between the north-facing wing, in which the clients will primarily live, and the perpendicular wing, envisaged as a guest wing, carer's residence or space for extended family. These wintergardens will capture and draw warmth into the living areas during winter, and in the warmer months will increase cross-ventilation through the openings in tall banks of louvres.

The notion of the house as an extruded diagram is continued internally in the long and open living space, with the cathedral ceilings and horizontally laid timber wall panelling adding to the idea of the interior as a singular form pulled back through space. The floors, window reveals and joinery, some of which have been custom made from the clients' own stock of timber, add visual warmth to the space, while an elegant double-sided steel fireplace does this literally. Discreet detailing at the end of the space hides panelled doors that give access to a music room and also a second wing, a procession of comfortable bedrooms and living areas that share views to the fledgling gardens, left to the green thumb clients to cultivate. The great thought that has gone into making this home easy for the clients to use and maintain is apparent everywhere. Obvious features like the accessible (yet far from hospital-like) bathrooms are complemented by a raft of more subtle interventions such as LED wall-mounted uplighting that allows lamps to be changed without climbing a ladder, low window sills in the main bedroom that keep views available even during extended periods spent in bed, and entries that allow for the insertion of ramps when required.

With the Wallington Residence, Gunn Oyring has easily sidestepped the trap of reducing the building down to a banal one-liner in slate. Instead it has created a home whose familiar form immediately engenders an emotional connection, and whose beautifully precise patterns in slate and puncturing of the mass with bright and airy wintergardens combine with other touches to create an intimate reflection of the clients' desires and a home that will be enjoyed for many generations to come.

Words by Brett Seakins
Photography by Alicia Taylor

House Magazine Pages 104-110.

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