_____________ TIM CUPPETT ARCHITECTS ______________

:  Camp Frio – Immersed in nature  :

Learn how a Texan family community has successfully linked architecture with the psychology of lifestyle.

Camp Frio resonated immediately for many reasons: mainly because it is residential architecture designed specifically for the utilisation and enjoyment of nature.


The impressive yet understated agenda by Tim Cuppett Architects at Camp Frio includes the union of construction aesthetics with vernacular architecture and history; a continuum of public and private spaces and noticeably, rudimentary impact on the immaculate site.

It brought to mind the history of European Australia and the north in particular. Northern Australian pastoral properties (with only two seasons effectively) constructed homesteads with deep verandas to counter the effects of the long hot summers. In conjunction verandahs were often screened in with flywire (Greenmount Homestead in QLD). Not infrequently, the kitchen and dining rooms were similarly lined in place of timber to both avert insects penetrating the house and allow for increased air flow and the catching of cool breezes.  In such a climate with intermittant rainfall, the three metre verandas made screening possible.  One qualification are the very early stone buildings which meant of course that the interiors were inherently cool.

At a quick glance it is evident that the family quadrangle at Camp Frio was planned to account for all known situations in conjunction with an emphasis on connecting to nature. An additional and worthy imperative, however, is to provide a solid home-away-from-home to be handed down the generations. The nearby town of Leakey has a temperature range of 17 – 19 deg in winter to 34 deg in summer, therefore outdoor activities can be enjoyed the year round, either on the river or in the bush.

Camp Frio is a revelation in transformative architecture. The architects have harnessed what we at once know, need and appreciate in the third decade of the 21st century.

TCA have come up with a prototype based on the importance of personal psychology in relation to architecture. Architecture is able to, and should impact the human psyche both positively and singularly.  It should additionally, develop and enhance the broader community of which it is part.  While architecture, in isolation, cannot be the final arbiter in determining the welfare and contentment of the inhabitants, if comprehensively considered it will facilitate a feeling of optimism and pleasure moving forward.

Architecture, in particular, which moves beyond mere building, strives to enhance the human condition and promote emotional well-being through the manipulation of space, light, material, and form.

At Camp Frio these attributes have been amplified by the inclusive plan, and the way the whole has been organised (inside and out) to inspire a sense of adventure, enquiry and activity, without compromising the natural landscape.

Exposure to nature has been proven to help people heal faster, students learn better, and employees become more productive. And say goodbye to sterile, inauthentic design.

The psychology of aesthetics can be added to the above.  Take the simple ‘push out shutter’ – it is relevant to TCA’s pared-back concept for the site and the style of architecture; it is practical and has the presence of an authentic ‘hand-made’ object.  These combined elements feed into the the greater vision for the family – that is making life both appear, and actually be, simple.

Similarly, a bedroom under a stairway: while uncoventional it ‘spontaneously’ and blithely slots in and abuts the field directly outside the window bringing the outside in, thus entrenching a sense of no-fuss living. The screened in porches indicate a different aesthetic in keeping with the transition from inside the home to the outdoors.  Relatively refined white shiplap interiors progress to more rustic ceilings and fittings in the porch areas; this distinction makes visible the shift from inside to outside.

There is a pristine beauty in the simplicity of design which taken to its logical conclusion equates to the ‘rewiring’ of expectations. 

Together with the client, TCA has subtly repositioned expectations to encourage a focus on those things that are important in life, communing with each other and the potential of the land to improve and boost both lifestyle and peace of mind. The entire enclosure is arranged as a ‘diminutive yet secure neighbourhood’.  While one-on-one communion between users is enabled by virtue of the boardwalk linking the individual studio cottages, there is a wider sense of the inclusive community in the ‘square placement’ of the respective buildings, so that children for example can feel secure at all times because sight lines to the other buildings and other adults are clear.

The heart of the modus operandi is to retreat from the stresses of life allowing nature to nurture, enliven and fulfil: the raison d’etre aptly captured by Residential Design magazine,

Here, architect Tim Cuppett’s agenda was to expel people from the house and compel them to go enjoy nature, fresh air, and active pursuits.

Contiguous with that rationale is the architect’s minimal infringement on the site, disturbing only where necessary in the construction process.  Implicit in that decision yet not spelled out, the knowledge that the beauty of nature in its raw state cannot be surpassed.

Inside the main house, there is an intuitive feel for interior design choices.  Apart from the stove which is decidedly robust, large and appropriate in this context, there is a sense of recycling styles and vintage finds to singular ends. The bigger picture the point here: an enveloping and gentle lifestyle heightened by the clever merging of ideas involving comfort, history and the artisan.

…the higher purpose is to connect to a special site and facilitate a kind of lifestyle that is uniquely of that place.

Whether conscious or not, specific trends are disavowed in favour of recycling furniture and styles.  An implied narrative is set up, by association, of the historic and multicultural role played by Texas’ early pioneer artisans subsisting off the land: indirectly referenced, localised and honoured in the here-and-now:

Structures were detailed for simplicity of construction with readily available local materials and fashioned by local tradesmen.

Moreover, splashy displays (the Eames lounge chair notwithstanding, yet its inclusion also a nod to American design history) are anathema to the style of architecture, the location of the communal retreat in native scrubland and the impetus behind the enterprise.

The goal for this project was to create shelters with an environmental experience unique to its place where summer madness gives way to winter stillness.

The beauty of ideas from which the project emerged at Tim Cuppett Architects includes architecture built to last, the natural weathering of buildings inside and out, whilst aligned to nature’s beauty.

However, the final word here will go to Elizabeth Danze and Stephen Sonnenberg (Space & Psyche)

Buildings are inert objects, but our experience of them transcends the physical realm and extends into our deepest consciousness.  

That can only mean good things for the inhabitants of Camp Frio!

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