James Russell Architect

Bisley Place House

Winding through the estate on a 35-degree day, streets are empty, but the mechanical hum of air- conditioners murmurs in the air, a sound sustaining the people concealed in houses on either side. Bisley Place House is at the end of this street. Here, children are running to and fro—not just the inhabitants, but neighborhood children, visitors from across fences. The aroma of fresh cooking carries unobstructed on the breeze from courtyard to curb. The ritual of cooking and meals happens right here on the street edge, a place for community.   The insular “hot boxes” germane to estates are not the fault of builders and property owners. Covenant writers—those charged with maintaining the consistency of the estate—prescribe minimum total floor area, garage space, façade materials, and roof pitch. But imagining between the lines of a building covenant presents another opportunity: A covenant as palette only. From this, spaces and materials can be put together in ways that optimise places for the people who use them.   Four large screen doors provide a veil to the street and admit gentle breezes as they build throughout the day. With a push of a button, these doors are able to tilt open to provide shade and threshold, an opportunity to initiate conversation with the street. Curtains are drawn to enclose space or redefine thresholds. Incorporating the outdoors into the indoor living spaces and establishing circulation throughout the entire site allows the dwelling to breathe. The house becomes a series of spaces along a passage, a journey that encourages relationships between people and their shared landscape. The envelope is robust and permanent, with adaptable glazing, walls, and landscape. Structural brick and concrete comprise the outer sleeve of the dwelling, materials that are inherently strong, self-finishing, and can withstand diverse weather conditions. The inhabitant is therefore able to create and recreate their own space, manipulating skins; doors, windows and curtains to alternate between internal and external use. Single-layer brick walls construct the attic spaces, generating an expanse within the dwelling that is intentionally raw and technically outdoor. This is a place for dreaming, for study, for contemplation.   Systems to maximise the functional potential of brick by managing the flow of water through structural brick walls were developed. Flemish bond walls brace the building and create a weatherproof barrier to the rooms behind them. The roof retains a 22.5-degree pitch but no gables, twists, or turns. It slopes down to a central court, protecting the outdoor edge. And within the roof is a magical space—a veritable opening to the sky.   Thick foliage flourishes around and within the glazed black brick dwelling, a home that both welcomes the landscape and protects its inhabitants, with simple control and flexibility, from undesirable elements. The materials and making of space is honest and efficient, a nod to the functionality of industrial building. But, more significantly, the dwelling manages also to return to the original denotation of home: a unity with place and environment, a coalescence of community.   COMPLETED: 2012 FLOOR AREA: 258m² DESIGN TEAM: James Russell & Andrew Shindler BUILDER: Crocker Builders ENGINEER: Adrian Dine, ad.structure PHOTOGRAPHY: Toby Scott   AWARDS: AIA National Commendation, 2013 AIA State Robin Dods Award, 2013 AIA State Award, 2013 AIA Regional Commendation, 2013 HOUSES Awards Australian House of the Year, 2013 HOUSES Awards Winner, New House over 200m², 2013   ABC1 Dream Build episode   In-house film