The work of Japanese architect Arata Isozaki is a far cry from Highbury Grove; a street of neat, carbon copy federation-style cottages in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran. But for this semi-detached Victorian-era home, it was time to go against the grain of its neighbours. Inspired by the Japanese architect’s thinking and informed by a tonne of concrete bricks, Ritz & Ghougassian have given this home a fresh architectural legacy.
Melbourne-based practice Ritz & Ghougassian see their architecture as the expression of a shell that becomes the basis for habitation and shelter. In this instance, the shell had to be extra careful of the existing home’s heritage facade and deal with the public laneway on the northern side of the property. Their response was orientating an extension to the north, that allows privacy from the laneway. The new structure is based around a set of walls that run the length of the site, and a second set that align themselves to the northern aspect. Together, the brick walls overlap and enclose the space within.
Robust masonry blocks were central to realising this conceptual idea. Ritz & Ghougassian director Gilad Ritz said it’s the firm’s favourite material, and their first time using concrete masonry. For this Prahran home, they selected heavy-set Austral Masonry concrete bricks in nickel, exclusive to Brickworks. Gilad said this was because they’re hard and protective, modular and allow for repetition and precise detailing. The beauty of the bricks has been left exposed both inside and out, framing the views outwards and as Gilad appreciates, running in a linear fashion. The polished concrete foundation is in close dialogue with the masonry, coupled with timber joinery to enhance the warmth of the home. The steel supports are visible, adhering to the strength of the space.
Passing through the narrow old hallway, you enter the concrete rear via a step up — metaphoric for the home’s journey. Instantly, you are greeted by the large hollow volume of open air and high ceilings, doused in northern sunlight. The natural light dances across the open-plan space and raw brick surfaces, out of the sliding glazed doors. The sliding doors welcome an intimate view of the courtyard, of swamp banksias and tree ferns; greenery that sings with the cool tones of the brickwork. For a gentle inch of privacy, ethereal curtains line all of the rooms encased by the courtyard.
The Highbury Grove home is built beautifully on juxtaposition. The rear renovation and extension folds together light and air with the heaviness of concrete brickwork; warm and cool, textural and smooth. By working magic with the masonry, Ritz & Ghougassian have rightfully earned their time in the spotlight, as the winner of the 2018 Kevin Borland Masonry Award at the Think Brick Awards. Summed up perfectly by the jury’s statement, Highbury Grove “completely challenges the cliche that concrete blocks are banal, cold or utilitarian”.
This project is the first in a featured series on how leading contemporary architects and design figures use bricks, in partnership with Brickworks. See the est favourites here or take a look at Brickworks on the est product library.
“We look for masonry from local sources rather than from overseas and this goes for timbers and various other materials as well. By ensuring this, we can give more context or regionalism to our projects.”
— Gilad Ritz, director of Ritz & Ghougassian