Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Architect Lindsay Johnston

I was really lucky while in Sydney and got the chance to meet architect Lindsay Johnston. He began life as an architect in Northern Ireland and moved to Australia during the last recession which left no work for architects. He taught and is teaching at Newcastle and Sydney Universities as well as practicing. One of his projects; the four horizons house and lodges seemed perfect for a case study so I interviewed him on that project and he gave me a wealth of information, for which I am very grateful. On the boat journey from the train station to his house, he showed me his latest finished work. He was very modest but I think it is superb how it settles in the landscape, not dominating it like a lot of homes along the river. I really like how it fits around the site, trees and large rocks included. And this is all due to the way Lindsay designs using models in which the existing topography is well mapped. A lot of care was taken to ensure that what little sun hits this well covered spot was optimized.

The Four Horizons house and the Lodges which form my case study have drawn from the rural shed vernacular but mostly from the idea of shade. People gravitate towards trees in hot climates and park their caravans under another roof. Lindsay was also inspired on a trip to Zimbabwe where tents were situated under a thatched roof and there was a fireplace outside. One of the things I am increasingly finding on my travels is that people are not just looking at their own vernacular for inspiration but those of other countries as well. Other considerations were the bush fire risk at close proximity (the house is set on a cliff with forest all around). The idea is that the building can be completely shut up using fire shutters to prevent fire from entering. This allows you to hide inside until the blaze passes. One critique he often has of buildings built by newcomers to Australia is that they have no apreciation for thermal mass or the Australian lifestlye of eating outside. Both of these things are incorporated into his design. Thermal mass is very important and very effective in the New South Wales climate. Though when we think of Australian architecture we tend to think of the 'Queenslander' a timber stud house built on stilts, large verandah surrounding, very lightweight. This suits the tropical climate in which it sits, but New South Wales has a very different climate, to which thermal mass is actually well suited. Lindsay (having lived in the house) says that it was very rarely too hot and never too cold. He said that when the temperature outside became hotter than the inside, you shut all the doors and windows and let the thermal mass do the work. They had 38 degree days and the house performed very well. Another key consideration is cross ventilation, something that features heavily in Glenn Murcutt's work. The idea of a double roof so that heat does not penetrate directly into the house or it's walls is another good trick.

In Australia it is tricky to say what is vernacular/indigenous architecture as the aboriginals did not have buildings as such but rather settlements linked to trees, rocks, caves and it was about shelter. When white settlers arrived about 200 years ago, as is typical of colonial architecture, they brought European styles with them, which were, of course, not suited to a variable climate such as the Australian one.

The Four Horizons House by Lindsay Johnston, picture taken from

The Four Horizons Lodges, picture taken from I have been kindly given a stack of images of these houses ( I was unable to visit due to their remote location and privacy) by Lindsay, however these have been safely delivered home for my return.

The holiday home designed by Lindsay Johnston recently. The approach is well concealed

A very steep site, the skewed forms seem to represent the rocks beneath them

The existing tree is really made the most of in this setting

The view is made the most of with simple, light materials that allow the landscape to shine through

The choice of wood decking works well with the existing tree colouring

Light and transparency using simple materials. A common theme important to good Australian architects, is the idea of the Eucalyptus tree, a far more transparent tree than European varieties.

Staircase leading up to bedrooms

The view to the river never leaves you

The riverside community

Lindsay's house, a refurbishment of an existing fishing type house, everything completely opens up allowing maximum cross ventilation and use of outside space.

The view from the house

The riverside community only accessible by boat

A bridge over Hawkesbury River

Hawkesbury River train station

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