Friday, 13 January 2017

Rivendell et al, by Laurie Virr [updated]

 

img_04

Architect Laurie Virr has lived and worked in Canberra most of his life, where he has been something of an apostle for organic architecture, especially that practiced by Frank Lloyd Wright.

His first house in 1969 was (and still is)

an unusual Canberra example of the late twentieth century organic style of architecture based on a triangular module. The house was Laurie’s first commission in Canberra and displays the themes he would explore in his residential projects over the next three decades: the use of massing, geometric forms and deep roof overhangs in an energy efficient, solar house.

His own house, dubbed Rivendell and designed in 1975,

is an outstanding example of the late twentieth century organic style with its massing, use of geometric forms, deep roof overhang and energy efficient design. The successful implementation of a complex geometric plan based on a hemicycle is unusual if not unique for a mid-century Canberra house. The house has been published many times, in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia. Inexplicably, it is relatively unknown in Canberra.


img_01
The roofs and brick masses of Rivendell, looking north towards the Mount Taylor Nature Reserve

 

Convinced that government-financed housing had been a disgrace rather than a grace to the Canberra landscape, he set out to prove what was possible --

to design a house no larger in area than welfare housing of that time, 102.4m2,  but one in which the siting, the exploitation of space, the massing, the concern for the environment, and the details, expressed in unequivocal terms what I considered to be architecture.

Rivendell4
Dining area of another Laurie Virr hemicycle, at Valla Beach, New South Wales

 

Taking his brief from his wife (no architect should deliver his own brief, he reckons) and allowing the site to suggest the house that could deliver it, he began a study of hemicycle houses, first designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the second Jacobs House, and designed this passive solar masterpiece for him and his growing family. Taking his cue from Louis Sullivan’s edict to “take care of the terminals and the rest will take care of itself” he held the public spaces of the hemicycle between the orthogonal cavity brick masses housing retreats, servicing spaces and study.

VIRR-rivendell

The French doors and stationary glass on the north face of the house encompass an arc of 90o [he explains], making it an architectural expression of the problem. This is also exemplified by the walls that define the terrace and mark the extent of the glazing.

Rivendell5
Courtyard of Laurie Virr design at Murrumbatemen, New South Wales

 

Built with his own hands, he has lived and worked there –very comfortably -- ever since.

There are just two people living in the house at this time and it is comfortable for us, but there was an occasion when 56 folk gathered within and there was room for all.

img_02

Beautiful!

[Images from Laurie Virr’s site, Canberra House, and Wright Chat. Cross-posted at the Organon Architecture Blog.]

NB: UPDATED 15 Jan to add corrected captions.

.

3 comments:

  1. Very impressive... I clicked on every link.. I have just discovered something called organic architecture...!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent! A whole world of delight is now open to you. :-)

      Delete
  2. Very nice, and very interesting. I grew up in Canberra in the 70's/80's, and whilst I'd never heard of Laurie Virr, I recognise a certain style in his houses that I think was reproduced to some degree in a lot of mainstream houses that followed, that I can recall vaguely from my childhood. Similar perhaps to the influence that Warren/Beaven/etc had in creating a Christchurch style (which is different again, but I detect some similarities)

    ReplyDelete

1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.