In harmony with the land – Brent Knoll House

News /
21 March 2013
In harmony with the land – Brent Knoll House

The modernist, glass-enclosed Brent Knoll House in central Victoria, nestled alongside an 1850s homestead, grows out of the landscape with the purity of a ridge line.

Brent Knoll House – a single-level, zigzag-shaped dwelling set in a large-acreage farm in central Victoria – achieves a timeless oneness with the surrounding landscape through the strategic use of contemporary building materials.

The result puts paid to the notion that a ‘natural’ design is only possible with agrarian stones and timbers, and demonstrates how thoughtful design can capture the essence of a local topography while harnessing the superior performance benefits of concrete, steel and glass.

The brief for the project, which was an entrant in last year’s Viridian Vision awards (Residential Creative Interior Glass application/Residential Energy Efficient Glass design), initially involved a large extension to an existing 1850s homestead – but it quickly became apparent that a separate structure would deliver superior results.

Architect Rodney Eggleston, from March Studio in North Melbourne, Victoria, says that once the idea of a separate structure took hold, it quickly offered an exciting range of possibilities. The old homestead changed status to a guesthouse, and the new structure continued the custom of adding separate, self-contained structures and outbuildings to the property.

The obvious challenge, Rodney says, was to design a contemporary, minimalist new house that would fit comfortably alongside a 150-year-old homestead. and the solution was to give the new structure its own strong identity.

“We didn’t want to recreate an ‘old architecture’,” Rodney explains. “We didn’t want to try and mimic architecture from the past. Disconnecting the two buildings gave us the freedom to do something new and different. Then it was all about contrasting the homestead against the new dwelling. We also looked at the geometry of the old building, which was essentially walls veiled by an enormous gabled roof, and we were interested in the idea of protection, being on the farm, and realising that the roof was the biggest architectural statement of the old house.”

Using the visual dominance of the old homestead’s roof as a cue for the new structure’s design, Rodney says he decided to design the new house with an equally imposing roof extending seamlessly out from its walls with large cantilevered eaves. The entire roof has a delicate pitch drifting from a soaring northeastern elevation to a lower westerly point, where the plunging roofline suggests a visual union with the ground.

“It was all about taking the new roof and, in the same way that the old gabled roof is folded around the homestead, making it twist and fold and push into the ground to give a sense of reference to the old, but also to make it something totally different and new. and that’s where the glass comes in. The client expressed a desire to be connected with the landscape – they did actually say at one stage they wanted it to be a glass box. the roof becomes a parasail that floats above a glass box, so to speak, delivering uninterrupted views and a connection back to the land.”

Clean Lines, Multiple Uses

The new house is configured geometrically as three rectangles connected at right angles. The use of glass facades and deep eaves also required some thoughtful geometry, most notably in relation to summertime shading and the use of sunlight to provide thermal warmth in winter.

“There has to be an angle of 18 degrees from the bottom of the window to the fascia line,” Rodney says. “So long as you maintain that angle you get the protection in the hotter months but, most critically, you allow the sun to come in during winter; sometimes people extend eaves out too far and in winter you don’t actually get any solar gain.

“Even though we did put in air-conditioning units the clients don’t turn them on except on the very hottest days. And in winter they are pretty well serviced all the time just with the thermal energy arising from the use of glass.”

The entire new house features floor-to-ceiling double glazed systems in steel frames, which were custom-made by a steel fabricator. The use of steel minimised the bulk of metal framework while permitting the placement of large panels up to 2400 x 1200 mm in size. Almost half of the façade consists of sliding panels equipped with minimalist door furnishings in an attempt to preserve the clean, crisp lines of the roofline and window framing. Openable glass sliding panels also reinforce the connectedness of the structure to the land.

The Nature of Light

The glass façade, it must be noted, has another important benefit – it is the perfect design for capturing ambient light – a feature brilliantly enhanced through the use of an unpainted pressed metal ceiling. Evoking thematic links to the homestead, the scalloped pressed metal – an icon of Victorian architectural design – retains a contemporary feel due to its raw aluminium finish.

“I’m a bit of a modernist at heart when it comes to detailing,” Rodney says. “But the reality of living in a modernist space is that it can often be quite stark and unfulfilling, like a hospital, so it was important for us to inject some warmth back into the building by referencing older materials, i.e. Victorian materials that are predominant in the area. the pressed metal was an obvious material to get some interest into the ceiling.”

Ambient light reflected off the ceiling gives the entire house a soft and natural appearance; meantime, horizontal internal beams (at a height of 2200 mm) are equipped with recessed upward-facing globes, which also reflect light off the ceiling and offer the same softness to artificial lighting.

“Lighting from below makes it feel like the building is soaring above the hill late at night,” Rodney says, adding that the absence of ceiling-mounted light fittings helps maintain the clean lines of the roof and window systems. Indeed, the entire structure soars from the land with a grace made possible by high-quality materials, a bold appreciation of the visual and practical merits of expansive glazing, and sensitivity to linear form.

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