Is a ruin a beginning or an end in itself? Or is it endurance that it silently embraces? A state in which the notion of something being born or lost forever doesn’t exist. What is essentially a reminder of architecture’s persistence, a ruin is an entity that thrives on the foundation of memory and meaning. When Brisbane-based builder-turned-architect Christopher Furminger was tasked to reframe an old weatherboard home near the Chelmer River, he sought a contested projection of a dwelling – alluding to a ruin – to shape his design. A lover of landscape and materiality, Furminger converted the home into a large walled garden that sets course for new journeys and connections of architecture with its site.
Furminger’s approach to the materiality of the Chelmer River House traversed the fact that concrete and earth are familiar materials for the clients who worked as building contractors in the construction industry. His own fondness for structural details, materials and finishes contributed to the final design where one sees a heavy skin of concrete and masonry wrapping the light enclosures of the house.
As one enters into the property and slowly makes way to the home’s entrance, the monumentality of form slowly dissipates into the humbleness of small courtyard gardens pulling you into the domestic spaces. The heaviness of concrete and brick transforms into soft green pockets framing different rooms of the home. The idea of locking the home into its landscape, according to Furminger, was to allow nature to slowly reclaim the site as time passes by. The low-lying site with its close proximity to the river will see transformations along the way, however, the hard enclosure’s solid presence will ensure that the home is “reduced to only what lasts”.
Against a singular solid form of the house, Furminger chose a fragmented volume ensuing architecture’s multiple connecting points to the outdoors. The floor plan reveals a series of small apartment-type dwellings with separate entries, private gardens, and flexible services. “The building,” shares the architect, “can be used as a family house, adjusting to change as children grow, as parents age, but equally it may accommodate non-family residents, or those working from home, with an independent office or studio.”
The construction of the dwellings follows the use of an inventive tilt up system of precast concrete panels that also ingeniously incorporates the plumbing and electrical services within it. The landscape of the driveway-turned-garden is clad in permeable pavers made using a mix of river stone and planting. Inside the home, timber and nature stone surfaces and textures create a beautiful contrast to the grey coarseness of the outer shell.
Furminger developed a synchronous harmony and contrast between the old and the new by using landscape as an equally important entity to the project as the building. Mixing the dexterity of a craftsman, precision of a builder, and the vision of an architect, there has been one more role that he pursued. “Our way of working was more akin to that of a sculptor. It allowed us to change and adapt our design in a more organic way,” adds the builder and carpenter-turned-architect.
Steering clear of the conventional image of how a house must look, Furminger’s idea of creating a wall to hide within what is often gloriously shown, is definitely hard to ignore. Could this be the onset of a new wave in residential architecture, we ask?