White card, box board and balsa models surround me. I am sitting in a sun-filled studio with Claire Scorpo opposite me, and we are talking about housing solutions.
Claire began her own practice in 2013, only three years after having completed her studies at RMIT, and working in notable practices in the intervening time. Similar to many such stories of starting a practice, it began with one project – her parent’s house. Naturally, after the project was underway word spread and with support from eminent contemporaries, momentum collected into a number of residential alteration and addition projects.
By their nature, these projects were small and presented a fast, steep learning curve in dealing with their particularities. They were each bespoke solutions inserting and reframing spaces, concomitant to existing site conditions and client’s desires.
One project demonstrative of deliberate slippages between space and volume is Shoreham III. A small existing structure tucked away amongst a small dirt road and trees, it is reformatted from the inside out. A restrained palette defines a pensive living space that is shaped by two bedroom wings within. A simple timber deck is outside, the edge of which departs tangentially from the roofline above, allowing an almost spatial play of shadow.
Claire is not fussy when it comes to materiality – she talks expansively about spatial expression, identity and architectural gestures with an infectious delight. The concept exists as an armature that the architecture shapes, allowing her to coalesce certain Structuralist notions and a Spartan aesthetic into outstanding sets for everyday life. Landscape delivers an important layer to her spaces and Claire speaks about utilising it to give rooms their own character.
A notable aspect of Claire’s work is that the art of model making is an integral part of the early stages of her designs, and they are quintessential in establishing a clear concept. The simplicity of plane in the models deals entirely with gesture and envelope, allowing for computer-driven refinement and detailing to come later.
While we talk in the studio, Claire begins to explain an awarded project in Thornbury. It is an extension to an existing Californian Bungalow, and she draws close the model to explain the modules that constitute it. The skeleton of the volume is prefabricated timber portal frames, oriented to capture northern light and frame the internal function. The larger module pulls the kitchen out of the main house, with a study nook mediating between old and new. The insertion separates the backyard into three interstitial outdoor spaces, and consequently realigns the classic bungalow into a courtyard house.
With her strong experience in alterations and additions, alongside her interest in systems and problem solving – citing the Espansiva project by Utzon – Claire has identified an attribute of the alternations and additions market that is as problematic as it is endemic; their bespoke nature. In response, and with the Thornbury house as an impetus, she is working on a lexicon of modules that are mostly fixed, but have adjustable qualities for individualisation. This is in collaboration digitally with a timber portal frame manufacturer to streamline the engineering into the first design iteration.
The key outcome from this solution is the clarity it provides in terms of cost and time to assemble, both of which are reduced in comparison to a bespoke solution, and it still allows for strategic spatial gestures. The potential impact of such a solution is that quality architecture may once again become an accessible product, and as her typeset develops we may see this nimble method take hold.
Beyond this endeavour, Claire is expanding her practice beyond residential projects with a number of commercial projects that have been already completed. In addition to her practice Claire teaches design studio at RMIT, where with her students she explores the familiar notions of efficiency and simplicity within broader typologies.