Finding harmony within the raw and the refined of its inner urban setting, Yarra Garden House by Powell & Glenn applies a local lens to the client’s appreciation for grand architecture of afar.
Looking to downsize, the clients brought clear ideas to the firm’s table that stem from their admiration for a Philadelphia landmark. Deeply moved by The Barnes Foundation building, an art gallery in the US city, the clients’ vision for their new South Yarra home drew on the simplicity and sophistication of this large public building with its foundation in Bauhaus and Modern architecture traditions.
Referencing the defining features of the American gallery that spoke to the clients’ aesthetic, Yarra Garden House echoes the larger building’s nuanced relationship between building and garden as the home’s interior and exterior spaces transition into a treed courtyard, and with its living spaces articulated by glass, stone, timber, and concrete.
In bringing these design aspects to this Melbourne city house, lead architect and director Ed Glenn was conscious of the built environment surrounding the site: “South Yarra is a cosmopolitan area which has intense relationships with its neighbours – privacy considerations were paramount with a block of flats on one side and an established home on the other.”
The sloping site allowed for a three-storey home that reads as two-storey, the ground floor situated to take advantage of the two-metre fall at the rear and one-metre fall at street level. By turning the back of the building to the flats and planting a tree-lined boundary, privacy was achieved. The main areas of the home face a courtyard that floods the house with north light which, according to Glenn, allows the house to breathe within the constraints of the urban setting.
The clients requested a move away from an open plan narrative, preferring spaces that are not immediately revealed yet offer connectedness for its inhabitants.
Glenn explains the collaborative rationale: “We wanted to bring an enigmatic quality to the home and when this is achieved well, it can elevate a place. There’s a real beauty in those unresolved elements when paired with polish.”
A notion of discovery remains as one moves through the building; rooms are defined by angled concrete walls created by the design’s subtle shift of space through linear forms. Texturally the polish is delivered in the strategic placement of collectibles from the owners’ travels, custom furniture, stained oak joinery, stucco lustro detail, and American oak solid timber flooring.
At ground level are the garage, wine cellar and laundry along with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. On the mid-level is the kitchen at the core, between the two living areas, and while adjacent to the formal dining room, it is not in full view. The dining room is separated from the informal living by the courtyard garden. The third level houses the main bedroom with ensuite, a guest bedroom, and separate bathroom.
A juxtaposition of industrial materials – highly engineered glass, steel, brass, concrete stone and render – are key to the effortlessness of the overall sense of the property. The garden wall entry is a sculptural form created in Endicott stone and it embeds the house in its surroundings. Timeless and settled from the moment of completion, the home has its own integrity in relation to the streetscape, reaching upward behind the privacy of its concrete façade and the washed stone entry that claims its territory.