Peter Stutchbury connects what is important to his clients with the buildings he designs for them.
APART FROM THE BURSTS of noise, the best place to interview an architect is amid the construction site of their own home, or maybe it is just the best place to interview Peter Stutchbury. A tour of a very personal build exposes all sorts of nuanced preoccupations and there is something anatomical about seeing the detailed workings of a building in the making. As we move through the site Stutchbury gives poetic descriptions of how the architecture will facilitate beautiful moments in the life of his family, friends and community and how light, breezes, plants and views have been managed so the experience of nature is woven into the fabric of the building.
“I had designed a couple of futuristic schemes but realised I didn’t want a showy house but rather one that presented a tough, functional shell in its public face. It is when you step inside the front door that the house starts to perform. I have designed more than 180 schemes for this land and this has to embody the essence of all of them in the most elemental of forms,” he says.
Constructed in concrete, the house has a purposely limited palette of materials: a section roofed in canvas, form ply reused from the building process as the primary joinery material, huge slabs of slate imported from partner Fernanda’s village in Brazil for the kitchen floor, and hints of copper and brass in panels and fittings. At the heart of the house is a grassed courtyard, with a pond, tree and fire pit, which is open to three levels of the building. There is something simple and Japanese about the use of space but Stutchbury views it through a quintessentially Australian prism. He feels this house has become pivotal in the development of his attitude to architecture in that he has tested himself and is more assured as a result (this from an Australian Institute of Architects gold medal winner and an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects).
When we meet he is mulling over a fresh commission from an astronomer in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, who wants to connect with the stars. Stutchbury has a plan in mind for a series of vaulted ceilings and a section that opens to reveal the Milky Way. He delights in connecting and amplifying what is of central importance in his clients’ lives.
He has a strong connection to place and, as his commissions have grown substantially in value over the decades, he has never lost sight of this elemental relationship to the earth. The awardwinning Invisible House has captured the public imagination. “It is our most referenced project – something in it resonates deeply with people. It is to do with both the phenomenal site and the pared-back, archaic approach to the design,” he says. And when he talks about finding the right location for the house he says there was an original farmer’s clearing alongside a cattle camp on the plateau, which was further worked for the new house. “Animals always know the best spots – where is out of the wind, where is most comfortable to be.”
While his work is predominantly located in New South Wales his foray into the wider world was the stuff of architects’ dreams. In 2007 Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake briefed his office with the words “nature, function, environment, connection and wild” in a search for an architect to design a retreat on oceanfront land outside Tokyo. They found Stutchbury and the resulting Wall House with its sense of craft and restraint, sited in tandem with the existing Samurai and Geisha Houses respectively, is a next-generation building in an honourable lineage. From fashion designer to astronomer, from art collector to builder of his own home, the journey of exploration is clearly what keeps his spirit and imagination alive. peterstutchbury.com.au
He has never lost sight of this elemental relationship to the earth.