Small in scale but big in its engagement with ideas of renewal and connection to context, this ingenious project by Baracco + Wright Architects floats over and welcomes in the surrounding environment.
In their curatorial statement as directors of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects closed with an Ancient Greek proverb: a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in. Their thematic, Freespace, called for architects to ‘sustain the fundamental capacity of architecture to nurture and support a meaningful impact between people and place.’ As the creative directors of the 2018 Australian pavilion, Baracco + Wright Architects in collaboration with artist Linda Tegg responded with an exhibition titled “Repair”.
Repair’s main gesture is entirely non-architectural, an installation of endangered native Australian grassland species coupled with projections of architectural projects. The exhibition advocates for the convergence of natural and built systems, an approach to architectural thinking that recognizes its use of land and engagement with it. Any act of repair must engage with its context. To repair is to stitch together, care for, mend, patch; these are all actions that require working with existing conditions, where the content of the project emerges from the site’s own renewal. As a process, it requires a commitment to understanding context, and for Baracco + Wright this means working within broader natural systems. Rather than beginning with the thought of a building or object, their design process places site at the center of the operation.
The Garden House, completed in 2016, is one such project. Sited in Westernport on the peninsula south of Melbourne, this small holiday home expresses architecture’s ability to engage with large systems and ideas through modest means. The proposal rehabilitates the site through the expansion of remnant patches of indigenous planting, with a simple shed-like dwelling nestled in a small clearing. Open to the elements, flora grows in and around the structure, which is built to be consumed by the landscape surrounding it.
It offers the user a close connection with its landscape and seasonal conditions, a high level of natural amenity, perhaps even satisfying an innate biophillia.
— Baracco + Wright Architects
Baracco + Wright mapped the natural conditions of the site over a period of 230 years, framing the building’s existence as fleeting in comparison to the enduring ecological systems in which it sits. The structure was sited where the least amount of growth was possible; the positioning of the building was secondary to the vegetation of the site. The dwelling is conceived more as a shelter or tent than a house: even the way it was sited parallels an experience of camping, of searching for a clearing to stay for the night. The open structure brings the external environment within, where one experiences diurnal temperatures and the time of day through the transparent cladding; the surrounding environment is always present. Using an off-the-shelf system, the building produced minimal waste and little disturbance to the geography of the site in its construction. The building at the end of its life can be unbolted and packed away and, like a tent, the site would exist as if the structure had never been there.
The elementary polycarbonate form encloses a floating deck, with the natural ground plane continuing underneath. In times of flooding, water enters freely into the structure, as does the surrounding vegetation, which increasingly inhabits the interior over time. The floating deck provides a single surface where rituals of every day take place, with a floating mezzanine for sleeping. There are no solid walls, and the perimeter can be entirely opened up with large sliding doors. The extremely simple structure is a quietly radical design, dissecting the typical dwelling through the removal of all walls, displacement of the floor and elimination of the expected demarcation between interior and exterior.
This tiny project demonstrates architecture’s potential as a strategy of repair, where the building begins with the care of the landscape and a conversation with the site. Baracco + Wright’s Garden House and the Biennale exhibition “Repair” move from architecture as an object to an operational device, an agent among many others that may act in repairing our environment.