Simon and Freda Thornton ARCHITECTS
The Andrei Rublev House SHOREHAM
In 1992 Simon was commissioned to design a beachfront house an hour's drive from Melbourne. He explains how it unfolded:
In 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky made his film 'Andrei Rublev' loosely based on the life of the fifteenth century icon painter of that name who became unhappy with his role painting murals in churches. His concern was that the main purpose of the images seemed to be to intimidate the people, rather than to celebrate the gospel. The film depicts an invasion of the city of Vladimir by Tatars, and scenes of a plague and of the repression of pagans engaged in a ritual. After Rublev killed an invader who was attacking a simple girl he became so disillusioned with the world that he decided that he would quit painting, and would no longer speak. Twelve years later he met a boy who was asked by the authorities to make a giant bell, as his father who was a bell-maker had died. The boy, who knew little of bell-making, nonetheless agreed and embarked on the long and difficult path of rediscovering his father's methods. When the bell was made, and rang out over the land, Andrei Rublev was reduced to tears of admiration and renounced his vows, adopting the boy and beginning again to paint icons.
A year after I saw this film I was approached by Peter and Gabriela Rose who had bought a vacant block of land at Shoreham with beach frontage. They had prepared a plan and wanted me to turn it into a house design.It is hard for an architect to take a two-dimensional diagram and turn it into something three-dimensional because the usual process it to conceive of a house in three dimensions. A horizontal section through this is then called a plan. Nonetheless I did not want to disregard their request. They wanted to build in stone. I found this a difficulty because stonework carries such strong connotations, either relating to ancient buildings or alternatively Modernist works with plain stone walls. What could an architect do when faced with all these constraints?
Contemplating stone construction led me to remember the film, which contains bold images of stone churches and monasteries. I felt that my clients carried a sense of seriousness that aligned with this beautiful film. At a practical level, I realised that if I represented scenes from the film in the stonework and roof forms of the house, I could use their plan to organise a dream-like sequence of these images. You have often heard the term 'the film of the book'. Well, this attempts to be a 'building of the film'!
A short time after the house was completed Peter Rose died of cancer. In reflecting on the sadness of this, I am reassured to think that the house is based on a philosophical film of thoughtfulness and depth, and that these qualities permeate the building.