David Boyle Architect / Marrickville House: Organic sculptural architecture

Clad entirely in vertical timber, the plan form and awning are joyfully sculptural and organic. 

In a nutshell, the above comment encapsulates what is visually exciting about Marrickville House!

The house sits lightly on the site, it is not overdesigned; there are few indulgences and unlike the majority of new suburban Australian houses it exhibits a bespoke and yet unpretentious authority.  In spite of that and the relative simplicity, the footprint is dynamic and the intersecting geometries striking.

David Boyle Architect’s Marrickville House not only incorporates beautiful design and singular features but continues the history of Australia’s built environment in a prescient relevant way.

Another way of putting it, Marrickville House is restrained and it is this quality which makes it particularly appropriate for the Australian way of life; nothing excessive but everything catered for.  Clearly the architect was keenly aware of his responsibilities in relation to the street frontage.  The house does not impose a regime out of kilter with the surroundings.

Moreover, the things that are important in life; functionality, family, friends, privacy; in short lifestyle all are easily accommodated without fuss. These fundamental aspects are enhanced by the judicious use of simple but quality materials that will age beautifully; materials that invite use and are happy to capture the history of both place and inhabitant.

Although the style seems characteristic of a distinctly Australian aesthetic (to this writer at least) which draws on notions from times past of the corner store, the shed/barn and pastoral huts (all applicable in this context), it is as if the creative process has been filtered through a clear set of mutual objectives not unlike the crafting of a finely produced hand-made musical instrument.

Marrickville House is emblematic of a time when the handmade object, designed and made to last a lifetime, was valued.

In relation to this house the architectural history of Marrickville and the entrenched industry of brick making in the later part of the 19th century provide an interesting context.  Thomas Holt, a politician and wool merchant, built The Warren in 1864 (demolished in the early 1920’s), an opulent castellated Victorian Gothic mansion.  Stone from the Warren’s demolished stables was used in the building of Ferncourt Public school, while much of the demolition’s sandstone was acquired by Marrickville Council and used throughout the suburb in kerbs, gutters and the like.  In the 1880’s  and 1890’s  Marrickville was known for its industrial diversity and in particular the brick making industry.

“Brickmaking had a lasting impact on the physical and social environment of Marrickville. Grand homes were demolished to make way for more and more brick pits, while the large estates were rapidly subdivided to provide cheap housing for the population needed to work in the brick pits or large potteries, such as Fowler’s. Marrickville was now the suburb of the working family.

Initially, bricks were made by hand, later mechanised and Marrickville became home to the biggest brick making business’s in Sydney; in their heyday Johnston Bros were producing up to 300,000 bricks per week.

While the distinct nature of this home would not suit every suburb, those suburbs that have a rich history of pioneering, of moving forward into the unknown, of complex social, industrial and architectural environments, not to mention pastoral and multi-cultural environments, this house would sit happily and authoritatively.

As mentioned, Marrickville House has a hands-on quality that moves it out of conventional residential comparisons into a realm of its own.

This does not mean it is narrow conceptually on the contrary it has universal qualities that would work anywhere in the world because of its creative prototypical projection as well as a plan which elevates easy communal living and privacy in equal amounts.

Additionally, this is a house in which maintenance can be all but ignored to focus on the all important lifestyle. To qualify, there is the street front courtyard, the enclosed deck off the kitchen, the “library area”, the front entrance, the third bedroom / office which allow for different groups of people to be engaged in different activities simultaneously; privately and more publicly if they wish.

Furthermore, the artisan and formal qualities the house displays aligns it broadly to the idea of music, a cultural milieu the house is clearly synonymous with.

As already referred to, looking from the street the house has the bearing of a complex musical instrument made by hand.  It evokes a lyrical quality at once in the shape of individual aspects (the sculptural form that hovers over the entrance, positively and negatively resembles the lid of a grand piano),the placement of the exterior sections of timber and the rising point over the entrance.  While the craftsmanship can equate to the making of an instrument, many of the the forms evoke an abstract musical quality: the master bedroom wardrobe doors for instance have a score-like timber repetition and arrangement.

Additionally, when the slatted timber forms above the entrance on the outside are open to the north-western sun they define and invigorate the interior as particular shadows are cast on the wall – a lovely, random counterpoint.

In most places the eye falls there is evidence of art as opposed to the function of shelter in the narrow sense.   It would be wrong to say “nothing to do with structure” but certainly “the structure” has been distilled through the lens of art.   This aspect is seen most obviously in the cultivated use of timber and the qualities and forms it takes.

In light of the handmade / hands on references, the materials used and the architecture of the past, we are brought back to the brick work.  The brickwork immediately at the entrance is arranged to run counter to those bricks demarcating the street front.  At the entrance the bricks are two deep, and because they are lower than and run counter to the bricks along the frontage, they stand out in a different way; as one of the images suggests and as the design indicates this space is a public as opposed to private space on the street; a place where you might sit and wave or talk to neighbours on a Saturday morning over coffee.

While this little area indicates the point of departure from public to private space, it also symbolises a slower paced past where everyone in the street knew each other.  It makes a statement about the industrial past of Marrickville on one hand and the sense of community that used to exist in the older suburbs (now largely lost) on the other.

The brickwork on the street beautifully exemplifies the design process as unique and holistic as well as a bid to recapture some of history’s communal spirit.

Overwhelmingly, Marrickville House exhibits bespoke architecture in keeping with design which is not only striking and beautiful but conforms to the singular requirements of the family.

A love of timber and its creative possibilities shows throughout the house in ways which serve both practicality and art. The manipulation of light, air flow and outdoor space are salient features.

The design addresses passive sustainable design principals with northern orientation of the living room opening out to the central courtyard, appropriate shading and natural cross ventilation.

Photographer: Brett Boardman

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