The site for the house is on a spur in the foothills of Mount Coot-tha in western Brisbane, a massif formed by granite movement in the late Triassic period. It is an ancient and enigmatic place, if not always seen so by people who live there. Couldrey House was designed by architect Peter Besley to spring directly from this subterranean rock below.
Using masonry was an early decision. The building is designed to be immensely heavy. The climate in this part of Australia is evolving: it is now hot/dry as much as it is hot/wet. A hybrid approach to cooling may now come into play, beyond the traditional reliance on intermittent breeze only.
No windows were made in the elevation to the harsh western aspect, in this case also the street frontage. The brickwork is instead folded in concertinas in a scale play around the main entrance door, which catches the afternoon sun.
Brick in Australia tends to have an association with mass low-cost suburban housing, but here it is used differently.
A similar concertina of brickwork stretches horizontally in the form of a set of large approach stairs, this time with their brick extrusion holes exposed for drainage. To the south, large slots were cut horizontally into the facade to create masonry “louvres”, giving both shading and privacy.
The actual layout of the house is simple, but reverses the standard floor plate arrangement: common spaces are placed above and bedrooms below, so together with the siting and very tall ceilings gives the occupants a feeling of living high up amongst the tree canopy.
This is reinforced by avoiding floor-to-ceiling glazing and instead terminating the tall windows at one metre above floor height.
The effect is great openness but also privacy from the street below, and a “nest-like” experience for the occupant. The lower floor slab steps down with the topography, telling you about the landform, and allowing each bedroom to have it’s own floor and “address”.
The completed house is something of a contradiction. It appears alien in the immediate suburban street yet kindred with the wider landscape, like an abstracted outcrop.
The overall effect is a sober, and somewhat other-worldly house. The masonry was important so the building’s character and will develops and become more nuanced as it weathers and ages, and it does not require continual replacement in order to look “new”. The building should get better, not worse, with time.
The building stands waiting for endless cycles of weather to be cast down upon it, to gain the finer patinas of age. The mass of the house and its emphatic sense of permanence, the sobriety of its masonry, and the spareness of its form, all give a sense of serene indifference, a quality it draws from the ancient landscape it finds itself in.