Terrarium House exemplifies innovative Australian architecture – created by bringing together layers of memories from the owners’ childhoods and their travels through adult life. Designed by John Ellway Architects the project began as an exercise in managing problematic site conditions and a 100-year-old cottage crumbling into an overgrown backyard jungle.
Sitting halfway up the ridge of the inner-city Brisbane, the cottage’s backyard is oriented perfectly towards the north. Retained on the front boundary, the land falls around 2.5m from footpath to yard. The change in level means that the former one-bedroom cottage could grow by inhabiting the open under-croft below. The streetscape, and the cottage’s relationship to its twin neighbour, would remain intact without raising the house.
Entering from footpath into a private world through a secure vine-covered screen, the former front verandah now contains protected external stairs. A lush planted void draws you down the stairs to the living area below.
The lower level with laundry, bathroom, meals and lounge has been designed and detailed to conjure memories of the former shadowy under-croft. Black stained ceilings create compression as you enter from garden in the bottom of the front void. Concrete floors, rendered walls and perimeter ledge make you feel grounded, sitting ever so slightly below the garden level in a breezy cool under-croft, not sure if you are inside or out.
The lower level can be enclosed by timber framed sliding doors, when open become invisible, sliding behind external walls. Fine textured glass to the east captures winter morning sunlight, while the lush planting casts shadows and flickers dappled light into the living space.
Above are the more private rooms of the house. Access is back up the protected external stairs and inside the original cottage door. Off the hallway is a shared bathroom with semi-transparent polycarbonate roof, letting in light and the sound of rain. The connection of the two levels enables chatter and activity. Passive surveillance and communication extends to the street from most parts of the house via glimpses through the vine-covered screen to walkers by.
From season to season the house can be adapted as required. In winter a large panel slides to enclose the rear void. In summer deep eaves protect the north from the sun. The large panel is left open allowing breezes to flow through the house and out though the screen to the street. I just love this house on so many levels!