Simon and Freda Thornton ARCHITECTS
The Fitzcarraldo Rammed Earth House STRATH CREEK
Inspiration for the boat-shaped plan of this autonomous house at Strath Creek, in bushland north of Melbourne, was the film Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog. The movie depicts a large riverboat being dragged out of a river in South America andhauled over a hill, in order that it could be launched on to another river, so that rubber could then be transported and sold, so that the owner of the boat could build an opera house in the jungle, so that Caruso would come one day and sing in it!
When Simon first visited the site, he was intrigued by the steeply rolling landscape which resembled waves, and remembered a poster advertising the film. He imagined the house as a boat with its 'prow' visible at the top of the slope rising from the creek. The idea became convincing when the orientation of the house was considered - it would allow a long wall of glass to face north to receive sun in winter, and a front door to be placed at the 'stern' of the house where visitors would arrive.
A challenge for the architect was the owners' wish to use rammed earth, a material which does not lend itself easily to the curves of a boat! It was time for an additional concept - to shape the rooms like shipping containers, and to marry these two concepts together with give-and-take; a bit like two mature-age lovers getting together and negotiating a relationship, which just happened to be the story of the owners themselves. Sometimes architecture can respond to unexpected things!
So the house is half-boat, half-container and manages to incorporate many curves, especially in the roof.
Is the roof shaped like a wave? Well, not intentionally, but it is interesting how ideas multiply when you are having fun with design. In this case the roof shape was formed while a model of the house was being constructed by assistant Mirjana Lozanovska.
In the film the boat is smashed to pieces on rapids as the crew sleep off a drunken celebration. In real life, the house you see here was sold after ten years, and a short time later it was destroyed in a bushfire.
The good news is that it has been completely rebuilt as before.