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Feature article



Profile House external façade of Victorian ash timber.

photograph: Peter Bennetts

WORDS BY Simon Whibley

Talking with Anthony Clarke, principal of BLOXAS, (Black Line One X Architecture Studio) in the café beneath his studio, I wonder how much of an architect’s work can be understood through the spaces they choose to work from.

Perched above, and shaped towards, a busy intersection in Fitzroy North, this clear expression of occupation and context seems to capture in itself the qualities that Anthony is relating to me about a project he is currently completing.

Called the Split View House, this addition quite literally presents a split view to its occupants. Each of its two main spaces addresses one of the two key views from the site over the Merri creek, one best experienced at the beginning of the day, the other at its end. Anthony explains that this project pursues his interest in the character of a single idea, one critical response or observation from which the spatial, formal, programmatic and material elements of the project can legibly unfold.

Garden Pavilion external render. Image: BLOXAS

Engawa House internal and external transition. Photograph: Peter Bennetts

Split View House under construction. Photograph: BLOXAS

This design approach draws upon experiences gained while working for Shigeru Ban Architects in Tokyo. Following the completion of his architecture degree at the University of Western Australia, and prior to forming BLOXAS in 2010, Anthony travelled extensively through Australia, Asia and Europe. This travel, often to remote places (the name Black Line One X relates to the view of the landscape from his travels camping in Iceland), built knowledge of the particular ways people live, the reasons why, and how this causes materials to be used.

In the Engawa House completed in 2014, the single idea meets this interest in inhabitation. To accommodate a diverse family within a small site, BLOXAS used the engawa, a threshold strip of timber used in traditional Japanese houses, as the key architectural element. This linear threshold, along the edge of the main living spaces and the external courtyard, provides a kind of buffer zone, allowing family members to spatially opt in or out of activities within the house.

As a practice undertaking primarily residential commissions, such design problems are common. However in the Garden Pavilion, a project currently under development, the architecture accommodates a particular physical condition affecting the client: an extreme sensitively to light and sound. A space isolated from the rest of the house but embedded within the garden anchors the project that extends along an arc back to the existing dwelling. Anthony explains that this approach provides the isolation the client sometimes needs without the impression that any part of the house is missing, or ‘out of bounds’.

Common across all BLOXAS projects, but most evident in the Profile House, is an interest in raw or simply finished materials and the use of conventional, handcrafted construction methods. In conjunction with this it seems only logical that a building so closely shaped to the social and physical lives of its occupants is left unfinished, an acknowledgement that the architecture can only tell half the story.