Project Details

Date

2014 — 2018

Client

Marcello Donati

Photography

Gavin Green

Builder

Visioneer

Press

Monocle - Design Architecture, Global 2019 
Architecture Australia - Project Feature, July/August 2019 
Houses Magazine - Project Feature, Issue 126, March 2019 
Monocle Magazine - Architecture Briefing, Global  2017 
Material City Book - 2018 
Take 7 Book - 2018

Awards

Australian Institute of Architects, Vic Chapter - Multiple Housing Category 2019: Award Winner (Whitlam Place)
Australian Institute of Architects, Vic Chapter - Interiors Category 2019: Commendation (Whitlam Place) 
Houses Awards, Apartment or Unit Category 2019: Current Shortlist (Whitlam Place)

Project Details

Whitlam Place is conceived as a solid form resting atop a podium of light-filled transparency; balancing material weight against structural lightness, presence against permeability. Inspired by the classical proportions of the nearby Fitzroy Town Hall, Whitlam Place offers a dynamic interpretation of its fluted Corinthian columns and rich architectural detail. A copper oxide finish applied to the concrete exterior creates depth and compelling colour variation, as green and bronze tones subdue the material’s solidity, aided by the textures of layered vertical greenery.

Junction between the fluted concrete detail and the lower podium.

Each of the eleven apartments has a different personality, suiting the needs of the variety of occupants. With the majority of the owner-occupiers being downsizers looking for a lifestyle of convenience, floor plans have been modified to suit favourite furniture pieces, including a baby grand piano.

Apartment 07 takes on its own personality, while soaking up the soft southerly light.

 

Statement of Intent — Michael White, 2014

In contrast to the concept of ‘timelessness’, the current state of multiple-residential development is defined by a universal sameness; characterised by trend-driven style in both formal expression and spatial planning. The project team of Whitlam Place has set itself the task of designing eleven new residences that pursue this earlier notion of timelessness by drawing on the strengths unique to classic modernism. This period of design and aesthetic philosophy was underwritten by a desire to discover new ways of living and new forms of construction, developed by blending artisanal practice with craft and attention to detail.

This is not a proposal for the universal application of a ubiquitous style as the solution to any site or structure – a criticism so often levelled at the ‘International Style’ of modernism. Instead, we are committed to providing a design response that is highly reflective of its context; not in a literal, reactive manner, but through sensorial and textural moments, influenced by accumulated memories of place and informed by the achievements of modern domestic architecture. In this short text, we hope to articulate our understanding of timelessness in architecture by offering a few examples of the seminal works that continue to influence and inspire us.

Internal Courtyard of Robin Boyd’s House, Walsh Street South Yarra, 1958. Photograph: Mark Strizic, 1928-2012. Source: The State Library of Victoria. Copyright the Estate of the Artist.

Familiar to many, the work of Robin Boyd and Roy Grounds spans over half a century of Australian architectural history. Melbourne is privileged to be left with built examples of their formative designs, and their commitment to excellence is still evident to any present day visitor. Both Boyd and Grounds understood architecture’s power, its ability to contribute positively to its surroundings and to a community’s way of life. Following the logic of a ‘reflect and respond’ approach, we reflect on the design qualities of the examples created by these masters of domestic architecture, and we respond with delight, taking respectful cues from works such as Boyd’s Walsh Street house, or the Hill Street House that once served as Grounds’ private residence. It is these projects that consistently engage our design curiosity, where internalised spatial conditions are contrasted with a centralised focal point, their former solidity dematerialised by the lush and illuminated courtyards at their core.

24 Hill Street, Toorak, 1953. Photograph: Leslie H. Runting. Source: The State Library of Victoria.

Likewise, South Yarra’s Fairlie Apartments, designed by Yuncken Freeman Architects in 1961, succeed in organising form and function into a design of perfect unity. The rhythmic quality of its exterior form is both beautiful and practical, as the scale and massing of this mid-sized apartment tower was visually broken down by creating intricately framed segments. The finer divisions of the balcony colonnades and street-level arched piloti frame the views of the bordering Royal Botanic Gardens, while at the same time harmonising this white beauty within the greenery of its landscaped setting. The building’s potentially heavy-set form is negated by the exquisitely detailed black steel balustrades and seemingly effortless glazing fenestration used. It is these contrasting qualities of scale and proportion, lightness and weight that provoke engagement and appreciation from the spectator and resident alike. This is a timelessness defined by nothing less than individuality, intelligence and craft.

Fairlie apartments, Anderson Street, South Yarra, 1961. Photograph: Wolfgang Sievers, 1913-2007. Source: The State Library of Victoria.

Moreover, it is the spatial rigour practiced by these seminal Melbourne architects that creates possibilities for new patterns of contemporary living. The projects described here are all suffused with a strong desire to condition an inhabitant’s experience of space through light and proportion, function and flexibility. Superior formal outcomes are the result, expressed through high standards of construction, the use of durable materials and energy-efficient solutions to the questions of everyday living. This is a timelessness defined by an unwavering commitment to the highest quality of design, technique and construction.

So as not to fall into a parochial mindset, we have simultaneously looked beyond Melbourne’s physical boundaries to engage with the urbane qualities of Europe’s city streets. Our journeys abroad, both physical and cerebral, have provided encounters with the well-proportioned and pedestrian-scaled streets of Paris, Barcelona and Venice. The formal rationalism of these well-defined and activated locations has informed many parts of the inner-city design we seek to realise in Melbourne. The simplicity, clarity and honesty in the work of Italian rationalists Aldo Rossi and Giorgio Grassi demonstrate a formalism predicated on a rational spatial order, creatively referencing historical archetypes of form and space in relevant, useful and contemporary ways.

An early concept sketch for Whitlam Place by Michael White.

Whitlam Place is conceived as a solid form resting boldly atop a podium of light-filled transparency; a formal expression that holds the physical bounds of its site through a strong sense of European urbanity. Reflecting on the influential works of these earlier architects, both in the Antipodes and beyond, we respond with a design that fosters and enhances the social, cultural and historical qualities that this inner-city site has to offer. This boutique collection of apartments, through its nuanced and highly detailed design, will contribute to the lives of its residents and the wider ecology of Fitzroy and its surrounds.

 

One step forward two steps back — Marcello Donati, 2014

To search for a way forward, we must look back to a time when design was about how things worked, rather than how they looked, and the lifespan of objects really was a lifetime. These are the values that have been left behind in our current desire to find the latest, fastest and cheapest products; items that may satisfy our momentary needs but lack the qualities to age and endure. Instead, objects of longevity possess a richness of meaning unavailable to the transient product, charged by their associations with memory and materials. Reflecting on the modernist designs and art that best distill this philosophy, I couldn’t go past the work of internationally renowned artist and designer, Clement Meadmore, for its absolute clarity; managing, as it does, to refine broader ideas of great complexity into the simplest of lines and forms.

Modernism was the result of a process, a vision and an intellectual rigour that was uncompromising, propelling a totally commensurate philosophy that affected every aspect of design practice. The exploration and innovation generated within this framework created new ways of living and experiencing every detail in our lives. The values inherent in this period will endure changes in fashion, trends and lifestyle because they fundamentally relate to the way that we experience buildings, objects and art.

Meadmore embodied these ideas and created singular works that were defined by a nuanced engagement with their environment. His ‘Wire Chair’ remains beautiful, elegant and sophisticated. It has finesse and detail without being ostentatious or compromising substance and practicality over style. The taper in the wire framework allows for plays on perspective, shadow and volume, all of which are carefully negotiated as you move around the object. Logical and harmoniously balanced in terms of performance and refinement, the chair has become a tightly held collectible, often being restored back to its original condition.

Wire Chairs by Clement Meadmore. Photography by Morgan Hickinbotham.

Meadmore’s sculptural works in the public domain are his most successful and powerful artistic contributions, as they distill the ideas explored in the immediate architectural context, recreating them at a human scale. Specifically commissioned for Melbourne’s AMP Square, Awakening (1968) engages with its environment through its sheer physicality and size, while conveying emotions far beyond its formal presence. The form exudes movement from a solid geometric plane by balancing the tension between material weight and plasticity of expression. Acting as a spatial element within the otherwise minimal plaza, Awakening contracts and opens up, provoking both a physical and emotional response. As with most of his oeuvre, this work productively explores the opposition between line and mass. The sculpture’s highly reduced form emphasises subtle shifts in shadow and patina, as the work responds to its natural environment.

St. James Building’s Plaza and sculpture by Clement Meadmore, AMP Building, 535 Bourke Street, Melbourne, 1970. Photograph: Wolfgang Sievers, 1913-2007. Source: The State Library of Victoria.

Both of these examples illustrate that while Meadmore’s work was minimal in its formal language and modest in its materiality, it always achieved maximum impact. Each work animates the space around it through shadow, transparency, weight and line to achieve a presence far greater than the components from which it is constructed. Developed over years of testing, refining and prototyping, these works underwent rigorous phases of fine-tuning before they were realised through to production. This devoted application in the conceptual stages of design has been fast tracked in contemporary practice, replaced by the shortsighted approach of developing ideas without consideration for the long-term effects of their every aspect. The quality of contemporary construction practices and materials mean that many properties rarely look better than the day they are built, or worse still, than their depiction in promotional material. The Meadmore works belong to a time predating planned obsolescence and cynical marketing strategies, when versions and updates were the exception rather than the norm, meaning that they remain today as striking and resolute as they have ever been.

I believe that buildings should respond to their environments by using materials that continue to live and change with the passage of time, taking you on a journey that unveils layers of craft and detail, imbuing the building with a richness of feeling. Using processes and construction techniques that require a higher level of craft may take longer and cost more in the short term, but good things take time and I feel that it’s worth the commitment. After all, a home is the stratification of personal memories collected through time, and a responsive environment allows these memories to build and develop powerfully through the home.

Taking all that we have learnt from the wonderfully optimistic and uncompromising philosophies of the post-war period of design, we can employ unique solutions that benefit from the latest technologies and advancements in materials. With this ideology governing every decision, large-scale or detailed, I strongly believe that we can create buildings that have the potential to enhance the relationships we form with spaces, memories and, most importantly, with each other.

Project Details

Date

2014 — 2018

Client

Marcello Donati

Photography

Gavin Green

Builder

Visioneer

Press

Monocle - Design Architecture, Global 2019 
Architecture Australia - Project Feature, July/August 2019 
Houses Magazine - Project Feature, Issue 126, March 2019 
Monocle Magazine - Architecture Briefing, Global  2017 
Material City Book - 2018 
Take 7 Book - 2018

Awards

Australian Institute of Architects, Vic Chapter - Multiple Housing Category 2019: Award Winner (Whitlam Place)
Australian Institute of Architects, Vic Chapter - Interiors Category 2019: Commendation (Whitlam Place) 
Houses Awards, Apartment or Unit Category 2019: Current Shortlist (Whitlam Place)

Whitlam Place

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