House A is a work of extraordinary modesty. With its gabled parapets, it says ‘suburbia’ clearly enough, but it stands a ghostly sentinel above a field of terra cotta tiles. Bare but not brutal, it is a house stripped back to its essentials. At a distance it cuts a simple figure, with deep incisions that suggest solidity. But this is a matter of material treatment: the shell is pale grey (a result of using slag in the concrete) while the recesses in it are dark, with glass deeply shaded. Studied more closely, the house is in fact biscuit-thin. The tilt-up walls were cast on site, flipped up and pinned together, their narrow edges revealed at the corner junctions, making it a little like a house of cards delicately standing in tension. In this way, it is so eerily model-like in its simplicity that it often seems unreal – in certain lights the concrete walls seem to lose their edges to the sky.
The same sparing treatment carries through to the interior of the house. Surfaces are shades of pale, materials left close to their original colour and texture in avoidance of double-treatment, skinning or cladding. The effect is soft without being plush: there is a lot of light bouncing around, and while raw, the house is not without warmth, texture and flourish.
Greater degrees of privacy occur with increasing distance from the central courtyard. Rather than being enclosed with doors, more secluded spaces are simply reached by turning a corner – once for visual separation, again for aural. The wet areas resonate with seaside change rooms – at first thought this could be a matter of materiality: tiled benches and stub walls, an aversion to cabinetry in favour of surfaces that can get wet – but it is also a result of that breezy planning that spirals inward from public to private. This gives the house great openness, and a sense of space much greater than its footprint.
The same little-as-possible attitude is applied to the building’s size (effectively a generous apartment), to the planning, to the fabrics and materials (undyed, whitewashed, clear-sealed) and to the manner of living in the house (fluid and uncomplicated). The house is reductive, but it isn’t a work of purism or austerity. Whispering Smith haven’t spurned ornament: they’ve just let it reside in details and in resolving the meeting of different elements. In this way, detail exists where it has to, and the rest is left to quiet planes.
Text by Dr. Beth George