2007 Pauline Heslop bought a vacant block of land next to her daughter
Lesley and her family, in Northcote. The intention was to build a house
for herself, and link her courtyard and new pool with the backyard next
designing this house for someone who has spent most of her life running
a die-casting factory with her late husband, I wanted to engage with
engineering culture. It is hard to imagine a better example of the mind-set
of the engineer than the construction of a Roman aqueduct. Their approach
seems to have been to connect the water source and destination by a
straight line, at a slight descending angle, and not worrying about
valleys and hills; they just ploughed right through them! Since the
house site is very long and thin, I realised that the form of an aqueduct
would fit well on the block, and if skewed to true north, would run
from corner to corner. Hollowed out, it would serve as a passage, allowing
rooms and external spaces of various sizes to be located alongside it.
In the tradition of 'carpenter gothic' architecture, the 'aqueduct'
is constructed of wood, but the exposed radially-sawn hardwood weatherboads
will turn a stony grey, giving the impression of weight.
about this weightiness I was reminded of the book The Unbearable Lightness
of Being by Milan Kundera, where two ideas of existence are contrasted:
Is a person's action of no consequence and disappears into oblivion?
Or should we act as if every action repeats heavily for all eternity,
as Neitzche argued? This juxtaposition of lightness and heaviness suggested
an architectural representation. As the aqueduct seemed to stand for
repetition and heaviness, by contrast the rooms of the house could be
in the form of tents - the lightest form of architecture. To refine
the formal language of the house, I visited websites of contemporary
Medieval pageants, and adopted the language style of the striped tents.
As I was not personally convinced by either the heavy or light concept
of existence I have introduced some tile patterns taken from fifteenth-century
icon paintings of the vestments of Russian saints, allowing the inclusion
of systems of thought which include both heaviness and lightness, through
the transformative concept of self-forgiveness.
The 'aqueduct' is a sun collection device oriented to the solar system
rather than the surveyors' grid which is based on magnetic north. The
arches echo the march of days and years, and the passage from the front
porch at the east end to the bedroom at the west has connotations of
the passing of life from conception to death. The tent-like spaces may
be seen as the ephemeral 'rooms' where our imaginings create the real
substance of our existence.