A Careful Occupation
RMIT Master of Architecture Graduate Project 2020
Supervisor: Michael Spooner
Building 12 Holland Court is part of the Flemington Housing Estate. The project conceives of the building abandoned and the last one of its kind. A scenario derived from recent events. The project is a heritage response that considers every action as advocating for the tower; the memory of it on the skyline and as the lived experience of the housing community. The final proposal is a library with a viewing room for the community and archives with conservation labs.
There are three heritages that are addressed: The buildings brutalist form; the belief that the buildings is an unloved expression of a vertical community; and the ARM brick additions that wrap the entry level and their reference to the Oscar Niemeyer Church Replica at its pinnacle.
The project developed through a consideration of care, with frames of reference ranging between a form of divinity to mutilation. An initial study primarily suggested that whatever was to be done on the building it would reflect my level of care. So, care had to be personally defined. Where the project ended up was the idea of care as occupying the space, the wall, the room. This intends to examine the existing and position it as valuable. With the façade primarily left alone care flows into the interior, examining traces of the domestic and memories of its occupation held against the new.
This exteriority of the project is examined through its relationship with the city. The research confirmed the isolated island of Debney Park and the estate with the large edge of city link. The sequence along Flemington Road shows the housing estate only timidly revealing itself. These observations allowed the interventions to reflect the building and not the city.
However, Flemington Road was observed and is where an initial framework for the project was found, in the banalities of its urban regulation and their disordered formal consequences.
The exterior was considered as a vehicle for preservation research: to teach, blend, cover, echo, reuse, use up and confuse. A vacant space at the base of the building gave the possibility of a new entrance, to counter the existing gloomy entry. There was an attempt to echo and give focus to some of the work previously done by ARM. The new entry slips and blending between the new and existing, the exterior vestibule holding the two together. ARMs work with the brick is pulled across and a new thinly perforated panel overlaps and extends the existing façade, providing an uncertain legibility.
Inside the vestibule these ideas come into play. A postmodern wall as the reading of the street faces the interior to reframe the interior of the project against the existing brutalist structure, giving form to the resilience of its inhabitation. The ARM’s addition are revealed and made discoverable within the vestibule. Anew archway attempts to resolve the individual elements on a didactic level; black and white forms extrude out of existing openings carrying the columns by ARM.
There was a point in my project, after doing many exterior tests, that the focus needed to move into the interior of the building. However, some of these earlier strategies develop key approaches. A John Devenish room, the Victorian Housing Commissioner who provided a positive direction for social housing, examines the representation of a symbolic gable roof formation as a reference to infill dwellings. This was an attempt to reflect a cryptic form against those by ARM.
In the interior, the architecture was positioned through the prior domestic occupation and implied traces of the everyday inhabitation. Frames, doorways, shutters, curtains, and furniture were all used as elements to capture these moments. These strategies were gleaned from architectural precedents that aligned with my consideration.
The exploded axonometric illustrates the new against the existing. On the top right is the library, a new space within the interior with a new structural system to holds its own. The primary architectural devices a blue wall and a stair with a relationship to the existing corridor walls.
In the plan of the library you can see the effect of the new structural grid. Positioned in odd areas, in front of windows and wall opening, it is an outcome of being offset from the existing columns below and the gradual distancing and thickening of columns as it moves back. This is further emphasised by the thin exterior panels and offset dividing wall . On the floor the removed walls are left as traces.
The section demonstrates the primary idea of the library as it s staggered form retreats to the back of the tower, reminding us of the density of the towers. Due to the open space resulting in lots of erasure, the library is counteracted with book shelving to replace the domestic world that has abandoned it. They appear from the rear walls as a fun representation of home. The new volume is counteracted with floor levels indicated at datums and linear lights reflecting the demolished walls. For the intermediate area between outside and in, the balcony strategically holds the existing and the new together with a transparent threshold.
Inside the library the open space is emphasised by a new and dramatic stair. The new is the most apparent in the library, with only glimpses of the old that then reframed to capture the memory of the lived experience from inside. The hierarchy between is not necessarily clear as they both play off each other. The difference is expressed by sanding and scratching the white precast walls. Inside a reading room the effect of the columns is evident. The surrounding cladding compresses the space even further. The plywood joinery spills out to create a desk that is floating
Throughout the project the existing corridors explore the threshold between the different occupied spaces. In the library the existing wall remains partially intact. The reading rooms compress the back of this space. Panels open to reveal or hide, as a new layer. Existing openings are joined against new incisions that reveal a trace of the past, sometimes framing the new columns against the old.
The very rear rooms start to compress even further with new walls that play within the tight space created. These rooms consider the existing walls that are no longer integral, allowing for a new unconventional delineation of space and use, which in turn captures and frames an existing heater on the wall.
In the archives the corridor tests the threshold by demolishing the existing walls of the corridor and replacing with curtains and sliding doors. The prior lived experience is captured through the printing of existing openings on curtains, that can be drawn across the sliding door.
The viewing room is located in the middle of the tower. Its placement is as a concern of the towers verticality. In plan this new space is a lot more constrained. Keeping a lot of the existing program and allowing the use of old bathrooms to remember the prior. On the ground existing tiling is expressed in the floor that is composed of remnants where kitchen and bathroom tiling was. The minimal space results in an uncertain new ground for the corridor.
This sharp edge shown here starts to be understood with the idea overlapping along the existing wall. A gradual transference to the new, squeezing out the existing. Above the single gesture of the cloud has a point of intersection with an existing floor plate. What happened here, turned into an idea of a surprise. Itself represented as a visual beacon.
Inside the viewing room the continuation of layering of spaces that attempt to open up are experienced in more formal qualities. This allows the interior spaces to be more unified. Above traces of the removed walls are left as a reminder with the lights and thresholds. Again, shutters add to the existing framework but this time as a new layer to the exterior openings. The shutters at areas translating the imprint of the windows but are also sometimes left blank to interplay as the new. The colours on the rear of the panels revealing a new occupancy to the outside. And the formation of the walls on the interior and outside start to reveal how the new intertwines with the existing through a play on shadows
The balcony receives a bold treatment. To be a visual icon for the only dramatic incision on the building. The fragmented forms marking its destruction.
So, what does this project do?
I tested a possibility for the building. ‘Care as a focus for the project came about as a consequence of a building that is all about care. What emerges is the appreciation the buildings heritage. The ARM work is echoed continuously. The cloud is imagined as an interior spatial quality. And the building is realised as the layered treatment of the existing, traces the buildings occupation.
My idea of care was not clear at the beginning of the project and it was only in parallel with the testing of architectural strategies the term was resolved. That is where I find the project the most successful, the convergence of action and reflection. And that is found in the interior, the implied occupying of the space with architecture. I also see the project starting to reveal this possibility of areas that the community would find of interest and valuable. The remainder of the building is untouched so that the suggestion of others could continued or refute my attempts here.
In the end, my project was not an attempt to fix the building. It was an reflection of how I care, in architecture, in a world that could do with more.