Merri Creek House
BY WOWOWA ARCHITECTURE
New house Melbourne, Vic
With drums and curves that allude to the brick water towers that dot rural Australia, this playful home flouts convention, delivering an abundance of “good vibes” in the process.
This is the story of a house that is not rectangular. Considered against the host of minimalist and reductive – and resolutely rectilinear – approaches to contemporary residential architecture favoured by many practices and their clients, Merri Creek House stands out by virtue of its bold geometry and inventive formal assemblage. There are drums and curves aplenty in this house, and even the odd paddle-pop detail
(more on that later). By resorting to these gestures and devices, the designers have instigated the emergence of an architecture that plays positively with its Fitzroy North context. In fact, they have taken the contextual referents found in the inner-city Melbourne neighbourhood to a new extreme – one that never quite borders on caricature, although perhaps it comes close.
Wowowa Architecture likes old things found in country towns and cites the ubiquitous water tower seen in many rural settlements as one of its major cues for the forms and shapes in Merri Creek House. These structures, usually finished in brick and steel, have often been lovingly fabricated, and include myriad small details and flourishes. For reasons that may remain shrouded in mystery, Wowowa has taken this reference and incarnated its iconic shape in three brick drums that anchor the form of the house. Curves in brick are also evident in other houses in the surrounding streetscape, giving further contextual grounding to the gesture.
The plan weaves between three circles: one at the front, one in the middle and one only partially manifested at the rear. The front circle resolves into a double-level drum containing a sitting room on the lower level and a study on the upper level. One arrives at the dwelling just past this initial brick tower, to slip into the plan partway down the block; to the immediate left of the entry is the second drum, which is a dramatic double-height volume containing the house’s single curving stair. The balustrade is playfully finished as a series of palings with friendly-looking “paddle-pop” tops, introducing more curves into the visual mix.
From the entry, the visitor is given a vista right through the plan, which meanders between the three anchoring circles. The rear wall of glass facing the backyard is partially visible from the point of entry, but the plan’s abundance of curves and corners means that a journey from entry to rear is one of
discovery and gradual revelation. Hidden surprises are revealed, as one discovers the different public and private spaces of the house.
At the very rear of the dwelling is the final drum – this one is only partially resolved or, in the words of my guide, Scott Woodward of Wowowa Architecture, “deconstructed.” One assumes that “deconstructed” refers to the drum’s slightly unfinished, or even romantically faux-ruinous, state – perhaps it could be the remnant of something that was in fact never built in the first place. More of a half-drum, this form is open on the northern side, and a high, curving window in its flank frames a view of a delightful flowering tree in a neighbour’s yard, unashamedly borrowing scenery to make a pleasant internal vista.
Upstairs (via the circular stair), the plan is divided in two. One side, facing the street, contains the study and the “garage-top” drinks terrace, a nod to a delightful suburban institution seen elsewhere along the street. The rear half of the plan is devoted to colourful and modestly sized bedrooms and bathing spaces; this is not a house of excessive, or excess, space. In fact, the formal heroics of the architecture pair quite well with a modest overall scale, in a time-honoured fashion. After all, how often do we visit architectural icons and find them to be smaller than we had imagined? Merri Creek House sits in good company in this regard.
As the largest commission that Wowowa Architecture had undertaken at the time of its inception, this house has the character of a formal experiment, albeit one executed with the enthusiastic participation of a willing client family. The result is something humane, not too serious, and possessing an abundance of “good vibes.” As I left the house, I thanked one of the owners for their generosity in sharing their house with me. “My pleasure,” she said. “It’s a house that likes to be shared.”
Wowowa Architecture +61 3 9078 2787 firstname.lastname@example.org wowowa.com.au
Project team Monique Woodward, Scott Woodward, Issy Jooste, Jean-Marie Spencer Builder Atma Builders Engineer Form Engineers Landscaping Sam Cox Landscape Lighting James Senior