Maison de Cour: Australian Courtyard House
Western Australia, 2013
The maison de Cour project began with an unusual brief: Rather than a checklist of physical needs – number of bedrooms and bathrooms, size of kitchen, types of rooms (media, living, dining, games), or aesthetic wants – space, light, clean lines (no clutter, low maintenance), the brief for this house developed from perceptions of lifestyle.
Kwokka mapped out an abstract concept for a way of living in collaboration with the clients, who, having already renovated a number of properties still found conventional houses too restrictive for their constantly changing patterns of living. Discussions about configuration centered on core elements influencing human behaviour such as value,experience and interpretation (of issues such as comfort) rather than access, circulation and storage, although these came to the fore as the plan began to materialise.
The brief was also driven by clear boundaries imposed by a tight budget and focus on minimal maintenance. With limited resources (time and money) an industrial-style of build was able to lift the restrictions of labour intensive detailing and finishing trades. Traditional materials such as brick, plaster, limestone and even carpet were rejected in favour of glass, steel, concrete and ply. Importantly, the house will be allowed to evolve after building has started on site; ongoing collaboration with the clients during the design and construction period will assist in tempering and modifying their preferences in relation to available resources, ensuring fiscal transparency and adherence to the budget.
As the brief for maison de Cour came together, key requirements clearly reflected the aims and intentions of the iconic Case Study House program (launched 1945 in Los Angeles):
- the limited budget necessitated using systems with efficient build times
- the design was to take a modern minimalist style and deliver maximum flexibility of use
- the relationship with the site was important – maximizing the indoor-outdoor connection suited to the Mediterranean climate, and
- the construction was to embrace an experimental improvisational approach, using leftover or salvaged building material.
While the thirty-six case study houses varied widely in terms of style and configuration, many aspects of the designs provided inspiration for this project; the simple modular spaces, use of industrial materials and lack of superficial finishes among them.
“The best preparation for the important job of managing a project and doing it justice by use and maintenance is probably to follow closely its construction, to value every part, and to know the problems of integration. To get a house in one’s sleep would hardly be the case in which the owner at once can prove himself a master manager… Design must, in the stages of realization, penetrate the minds of the householders to make the whole a success.” (Source: arts & architecture, December 1948 – CSH#20)
A courtyard forms the nucleus of the house bounded on three sides by wings which incorporate interchangeable living, sleeping and work spaces. The layout maximises winter northern sun, views down the valley from all parts of the house, and protection from strong south-westerly winds. The 300 square metre central open space provides cross-circulation and ventilation to the three wings, and includes shade trees and water features that help cool the air during the hot mid-summer days. An additional courtyard to the northern side is bounded by two wings which shelter it from the prevailing wind and provides a secondary open space warmed by winter sun.
The essential elements of the structure – roof, foundation and walls – are to be expressed rather than concealed in the final house, so the underside of the roof panels creates the ceiling, the concrete slab will be the final floor finish (not polished) and the walls mostly glass or sheeting. To maintain spatial flexibility and minimize cost, a combination of steel and timber framing, plus highly insulated roof panels with extended spanning capability.
While it was not possible to align the construction program with the Grand Designs (Australia) filming schedule as originally intended, a separate website was set up to track the progress of this unique project: maison de Cour.