The Radical Designs of the Australian

by Cees Hom

When asked what drove him to the field of architecture, Peter Stutchbury can sum it up in one word: nature. “I think I had an affinity with natural phenomenon and I felt I could connect with that through architecture,” he says. “Be it spiritual or be it physical or emotional, any of those qualities, it was a genuine sort of pursuit of connection with our origins.” The Australian architect, who was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects’ gold medal in 2015, is renowned for his ability to connect projects with the surrounding landscape and for his commitment to sustainability. “I think sustainability becomes a very big word and it ends up in respect,” he explains. “If you’re able to respect all aspects of living, then your building responds to that accordingly.”

While Stutchbury is best known for his residential projects in Australia, he has designed homes and public spaces around the world, from Japan to Israel. While each project shares a common approach, they boast remarkably different designs. “The reason they’re different is very, very easy to explain,” he says. “A desert is not a tropical rain forest. It’s not a sclerophyll open forest. It’s not a coastal landscape or heathland. And so all those buildings are on different sites. They couldn’t possibly be the same typology from my point of view. They have to engage with their site physically, emotionally, spiritually. They have to have qualities of that site brought into them. Otherwise, you’ll feel like a remote object.” Read on to discover more about the architect’s captivating work.

Wall House

Stutchbury, in collaboration with project architects Rachel Hudson, Keiji Ashizawa, and Rie Honjo, devised this home in Futo, Japan. The architect worked particularly hard to refine the design of the roof, which the client initially declared as too beautiful. The roof follows the contour of the site, leading the eye diagonally through the buildings. “There’s a closed wall to the street, hence Wall House,” he says. “And in that wall are all the service elements like the bathroom, kitchen, and everything. They form a very strong emotional and physical, but mainly emotional, barrier to the road.”

Cliff Face House

Cabbage Tree House

Built with Fergus Scott Architects, Cliff Face House in Palm Beach, New South Wales, incorporates the sandstone rock face into the structure of the home. A polycarbonate vault filters soft light into the living areas and ventilation holes cool the house naturally. 

Cabbage Tree House

Cabbage Tree House is set on a steep site in Bayview, a suburb of Sydney. “It’s almost like you’re living in a cave that building, but it has great formality to it too,” he says. Stutchbury and project architect Emma Trask used the stream below to cool the house and recycled brick to complement the hillside. The vertical building is broken up by a wing with a bedroom, which is topped with a pond. ”The light comes off that pond, which I call a water garden,” he continues. “If you’re looking down at the building, I didn’t want to look at a roof. I wanted to look at a water garden.”

Invisible House

For Invisible House, Stutchbury and project architects Emma Neville and John Bohane took full advantage of the majestic Blue Mountains setting in New South Wales. The house was placed below the ridgeline to protect it from the harsh winds, and a dramatic cantilevered roof catches the rain, creating a water feature. “Most of the sites we go to are virgin sites, never been touched before,” Stuchbury says. “So if you can connect with the quality of that place, which is an enormous training and I’ve been fortunate to have some of the great masters of that teach me, then you start to see a building not as a work of architecture, but a work of comprehension. It’s comprehending where it is and how it is, and it’s also complementing who it’s for.”

Pirramimma

Set in the Blue Mountains, Pirramimma featured a eye-catching curved zinc roof and was surrounded by terraces and gardens. Designed with project architects Nichole Darke and John Bohane, the house was illuminated by skylights and opened up to the landscape via a 13-foot glass wall raised by a pulley system. The home was destroyed by a fire in early 2019.

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