We were to be introduced to Ian and Cynthia as potential designers of their thoroughbred stud farm. However, the meeting was cancelled because the estimate of construction costs for their own design was double their budget. It looked like they would be forced to abandon their dreams and sell their property. Instead, we decided to get together for a commiseration dinner.
Over pizza and red wine, we proposed an idea literally scribbled on a serviette – what if, instead of building three separate buildings (house, stables, office + guest accommodation) you put all the programs in one simple cheap shed? This would provide the opportunity for radical programmatic adjacencies between horses and domestic activities that might just provide enough surprise and delight to overcome the desire for conventional ideas of beautiful form-driven architecture. “It could halve the budget” we argued, hoping it to be true. Cynthia embraced the idea immediately. Their dream was back from the dead!
The house is located next to remnant eucalyptus trees, high on the sloping site so that it could face north and overlook the property. New roads were kept out of view and paddocks were arranged so that livestock could roam adjacent to parts of the house.
A local shed builder erected the big roof and built the stables, office, and guest accommodation. Three years later another builder filled in under the remaining roof to create the house.
Super-adjacency became the theme of the project and it was to be explored in all its permutations and combinations: between stables and house; within the stables-office-guest accommodation; within the house; and further, between house and the rural programs. The extraordinary garden by Sinatra Murphy, the lap pool, and an artwork by Steven Bram, further extend the strategy.
Openings between programs are created by long continuous horizontal slots cut into the wall planes, or through two perpendicular planes (corner windows), and sometimes through three (at T intersections of walls), creating uncanny visual and spatial relationships in the spirit of Matta-Clarke’s environmental art cuttings. This horizontality frames views of the junction between an enormous sky and an enormous horizon which includes the Macedon Ranges.
+ programmatic adjacency
What seem like complex and surreal juxtapositions: bedroom + foaling box; office + horse wash down; kitchen + horse crush; shower + library; high-art + farm activity; guest accommodation + stables; pool + paddock; verandah + holding yard, are surprisingly easy to achieve by reconsidering the wall not as solid but as frame, threshold, and canvas, and by reconsidering programme as performance when configuring the plan.
The office is frequently animated by horse wash down sessions adjacent to its eastern ribbon window. Guests or staff staying in the foal-watch experience horses through ribbon windows on two sides of the room. Here, if they are lucky and the timing is right, they may even witness the sublime event of a foaling. The other guest room and kitchenette absorb the passing activities of the breezeway, and the stabled horses looking back from their boxes. The main house shares a 5m long window with the general horse handling area. As they are cooking or washing up the owners are privy to the daily theatre of grooming and preparing the horses, all the activity of the breezeway, and to the regular veterinary sessions around the crush. Opening the curtains of the master bedroom in the morning often reveals a curious mare looking back in from the foaling box, or cattle and sheep looking in from their paddock. The bedroom has deep openings to the kitchen, and dining room via the bar, home office, and library. Boundaries are further dissolved between bathroom and library, where a large glazed wall has the shower on one side and bookshelves on the other. This transparency also offers views through to the living room and beyond over the whole property.
+ material adjacency
An assemblage of ordinary materials clad the façades in a collage reflecting or ironically disguising, the programs within. A commercial aluminium glazed wall for the office, next to cheap farm shed siding, next to bathroom tiling, next to translucent shed sheeting, next to weatherboard cladding, next to agricultural sliding walls, next to a spotted pattern chimney and hearth (references the owners’ Dalmatians), next to a floor to ceiling glazed bay window, next to a fly wire wall, next to blue fiberglass sheet, next to fake brick siding on the garage tilt-a-door – all carefully articulated and exploring the extra-ordinary.
A sparse painting by Steven Bram extends across the south and west facades. Although highly abstract, it is suggestive of the arrays of clouds in an enormous sky diminishing towards the horizon. This background of high art mutually disturbs, and is disturbed by, the foreground of the ordinary – farm animals, farming equipment, tractors, and their constant activity. The art is made more ambiguous, and the farming more extraordinary by this super-adjacency.
= a surreal experience
The extraordinary adjacency and congestion of dissimilar programs, movement, materiality, and ideas, creates a freedom, which the clients claim has liberated their own behavior. They are themselves regularly repurposing spaces for all variety of events, effects and occasions. Invention, intervention, improvisation and understanding between client, architect, builder, and site results in a rich collage of stud farm operations, horse racing culture, home, humour, and place.
The clients describe the building as “a place where you can simultaneously feel you might be at the races, on a dusty outback farm, in a peasant barn house, and in an art gallery – all in a beautiful country setting. Seeing trainers on horses two metres in front of the kitchen bench, still takes our breath away.”