The classic Philip Johnson Glass House in the US has been reinterpreted – minus the glass – in the design of a residential home in the north of Queensland.
The (-) Glass House, designed by Charles Wright Architects in Cairns, was recognised with a national commendation by the Australian Institute of Architects in the Residential Architecture – Houses category at the 2013 National Architecture Awards, Australia’s highest architecture awards.
The designers explained the new project is a “housing prototype and rethink on the possibilities in a typical suburban context within our tropical cities.”
“In contrast to the typical condensed street frontage, we sited this house setback deep into the block, providing for an expansive front garden and rear outlook onto a freshwater creek. This provided us with the opportunity to successfully re-present an iconic modernist pavilion within a wet tropical setting, visible from the street as a distinct alternative and new suburban typology,” they said.
The floor plan consists of an open space design that includes the main living areas and circulation zones. These areas are more open than most "open planned" spaces, as they are actually outdoors but under a roof. Functional ‘pods’ were incorporated into the house to enclose private areas such as the bedrooms and bathrooms, a lounge/music room and an office. These rooms are enclosed using sliding glass panels that allow each space to be individually air-conditioned so the home's energy use can be controlled by residents on an as-needed basis.
A central courtyard features a swimming pool and a green area connected to the main living and dining area. This provides plenty of natural light into the interior of the house and serves as a unique “rain curtain” when the weather is wet.
Climate change was a major determining factor in the house's design, and for Charles Wright Architects in general.
“It is a condition in all of our work, we strive for innovation and new solutions to the problems of living with climate change in the 21st Century,” the firm said. “Integration of allied disciplines was critical to the successful delivery of our vision for the project, in particular the hydraulic and structural engineering which not only facilitated the advanced sustainability initiatives but also the practical requirements for withstanding annual cyclonic weather events.”
To help deal with the climate change issue, the (-) Glass House is a carbon-neutral building in which all the energy is renewable and is provided by the house's large photovoltaic and inverter array. It actually feeds back to the power grid, with its own power supply offsetting the use of air conditioning and LED lighting.
The flat roof area harvests rain water in a 45,000 litre in-ground water tank which is integrated with the house's hydraulic systems to allow occupants to have user control over whether water is diverted to irrigation or to other non-potable operations.
In addition to the home's sustainable characteristics, the client wanted the building to demonstrate best practice for universal access. Every detail was designed so to ensure the entire house is wheelchair-accessible.
The interior reflects a number of modernist ideas and principles ranging from the 1920s to the 1960s. Elements of the home are reminiscent of well-recognized buildings such as the Barcelona Pavilion and the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe, the Villa Savoye house by Le Corbusier and the Glass House by Philip Johnson. The use of natural materials and clean forms is more important than decoration.
Between the flat white ceiling and the polished concrete floor, the only materials used were concrete, glass and steel. While a few interior walls close off the more private areas, there are no boundaries between the surrounding garden and the house.
As is the case in many houses designed for tropical environments, the indoor and outdoor spaces are greatly connected, though with with the (-) Glass House, there is no transitional element such as a change in floor level, different building material, insect or weather screen or a change in roof form, allowing for an easier fusion between the interior and exterior.