Koskela worked with Curious Practice on The Lambton House and Valencia Street projects to compliment the architectural designs with furniture, textiles and art. Curious Practice is more than a name to the Newcastle-based Architecture studio, it is a philosophy of practice and discovery. Take a journey with us through the unravelling of carefully considered layers of design which entice, intrigue and captivate.
Curious Practice consider themselves as ‘amateur’ architects, believing there is always something new to learn. This philosophy has paved the way for them to approach briefs, materials and spaces in creative and industrious ways to deliver design solutions which are not only aesthetically pleasing, but conceptually robust.
What’s it like to work as an ‘amateur’ architect?
We call ourselves ‘amateur architects’ as to become a professional there is an acceptance that there is nothing left to learn. Continually learning enables us to evolve, develop, refine and stay relevant. There is a lot of hard work, long hours, research, practice, testing and trial and error but this also where the joy in architecture is.
By working closely with and learning from the experience of different builders; fabricators; joiners and trades on site, we gain a greater understanding of different materials and techniques. Leaning on these craftspeople we can evolve and refine ideas and details.
In practice, this information discovery forms a central role in our application of design enabling us to build on the skills we have already developed.
How do you encourage curiosity in your projects?
We endeavour to produce buildings that hold your eye, in that a project is not skin deep but reveals itself over time or layers. In projects such as Lambton House, a large ground floor opening to the public road and footpath provides a voyeuristic view of the internal workings of a family home and convivial connection to the street and passers-by for the owners. This public gesture is continued through an extension of the green streetscape through chainlink fences and canopies designed for verdant consumption of the building over time. The gardens also formed a vital role in encouraging movement. The sites irregular shape and levels were used to compress at the buildings corners and provide varied and connected landscaped areas for the kids to move between. Large openings to the living area providing an alternative shortcut to move between and allow supervision. The gardens over time will also reveal hidden paths as they establish.
We also developed a strategy around levels and heights to provide varied volumes and spaces to the buildings small footprint. An extended entry threshold moves through multiple floor and ceiling height changes before compressing at the folded galvanised steel door and then increasing in height again as you enter the interior space proper - each space leading you forward. Inside movement through rooms are also by changes in level.
With modest project budgets, construction and material detailing are generally standardised across the project however exploration of detail with the builder were to be allowed through use of standard and humble materials. Using these materials, such as galvanised metal sheet; compressed fibre cement; exposed LVL framing and plywood in different ways and limiting plasterboard we could develop texture and interest and encourage touch. Fixings of theses material are left shown.
What was the overall brief for these projects? Or is that something that develops over time?
Lambton House started as a small alterations and additions for a young family of 5 to promote greater outdoor living and connection to garden from internal areas. However, the site was significantly affected by mines subsidence. The existing house was deemed not sound and was required to be demolished. As such, planning and robustness of materials within the new house became keen considerations given the modest project budget. Living spaces and connections to landscape were prioritised and items like garages were seen as wasteful or superfluous.
A small ground floor footprint would reduce impacts of further subsidence and maximise landscaped areas, promoting and maintaining the green and leafy suburb whilst configuring family living to an intimate scale with the ability to expand via large openings into the garden. The leafy side street was also an important connection with each space. In the case for an enclosed WC, a full height mirror to the underside of a skylight was detailed to catch the canopy of the street trees.
Upstairs, the sleeping areas were to be connected though allow privacy for each occupant. A raked ceiling was developed that ran through the entire floor with custom fanlights over internal doors allowing privacy, air flow and visual connection between bedrooms. This ceiling extended out over external areas to further promote connection with garden and street.
Like Lambton House, Valencia Street started as an alteration and addition to an existing house. However, as the design began to form it became apparent that no addition was required. By rearranging spaces and forming generous openings the brief was able to be encased in the exiting footprint.
The brief was focused on opening up the traditional brick cottage to the wind and sun without losing the character of the existing home. Bricks demolished were reused throughout the project while scars and features of the existing home were celebrated rather than hidden allowing for the character to be retained.
Valencia Street House
As an architect, when do you start envisioning the finished product with furnishings and art? And what does that selection process look like?
Early. Particularly in developing any spatial arrangement of a room; Their size; proximity to openings and views; and engagement with other spaces adjacent is important.
We work between 3D CAD software and sketching from the very beginning of a project. This allows us to visualise space and volumes with different furniture and find opportunities for artwork. It is also a good tool for clients to understand scale of a particular room with reference to known items such as a particular chair or table.