Brent Knoll by March Studio
March Studio’s first residential project was both an ode to and a re-imagining of the Australian homestead.
Like many Australian university students, I found myself wandering through Europe midway through my studies. Happily, I landed an internship at Dutch firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Balancing a lifestyle of 12 or so hours of work a day followed by mandatory nightclubbing and four hours of beauty sleep, rinse and repeat, the thought of coming home was far from my mind. And then a sick father and the guilt of not finishing my bachelor at RMIT brought me back to Melbourne. Somehow, I managed to drag Anne-Laure (then my girlfriend and now my wife, business partner and mother of my children) back with me.
I decided to compress the final two years of study into the shortest time possible and then planned to return to OMA, this time in New York. I enrolled in a summer design studio and took as many online subjects as possible. Anne-Laure worked for cash in the local pub, pouring “French beers” with too much head. Returning from Europe meant introducing Anne-Laure to family friends, which is how we found ourselves in a rusty old Peugeot 505, driving toward Central Victoria to meet Jack and Deb, with the promise of great company, good food and fine wine.
Sitting on the precipice of a valley, circled by a ring of cypress trees and hedges, Jack and Deb’s 1850s homestead was picturesque on site. Small shuttered windows and a threemetre-wide verandah, on the other hand, made for a damp and dark interior. Its detachment from the landscape was notable and became the principal topic of conversation that evening.
The following morning, dusty but cheerful, Deb asked whether we would be interested in “fixing the place up,” and “designing a little extension.” While it was certainly an attractive proposal, I diligently reminded her that I was only 23 years old, still finishing university and far from being registered, to which Jack replied, “Well, we expect a good rate then!” Despite my thesis project (and New York) looming, I immediately accepted.
That year I drew the plan over and over in my head, struggling with the problem of connecting something new to something from the 1850s. With my thesis project finally completed, Anne-Laure and I joined Deb in Rome. Although I can’t fully recall this part, one evening over a bottle of Averna, the conversation turned to the extension and
I took a napkin and a blue ballpoint and plotted out the plan. Thankfully, the concept was brutally simple. One: restore the house to its original 1850s shell. Two: create a new annex to continue the protection offered by the existing cypress hedge. And three: separate the extension, encouraging the client to live on the land, to experience the changing seasons and to embrace the rambling nature of the farm, outhouses and all. The new house would be everything the homestead wasn’t: bright, light and hanging over the valley. Jack and Deb’s trust