John Price – Mediterranean meets Moreton Bay

It took the combined skills of an architect, an engineer, a surveyon geotechnical firm and an irrigation consultant to prepare this site, by Brisbane’s Moreton Bay. But the end result was well worth the difficulties – an impressive mansion designed by architect John Price.

LOOKING AT THIS SOLID AND STATELY house today, it is difficult to imagine the worries and setbacks that beset its construction. Essentially, it was a fight against the elements: record-breaking heavy rainfall during the construction period added to already difficult soil and drainage conditions.

The site is on reclaimed land on the once-swampy edge of Queensland’s Moreton Bay. The ground is a highly toxic, reactive clay which required a sophisticated drainage system and the carefully considered placement of buildings. At ground level an out-of-ground monolithic concrete slab is anchored to the site via an interconnected grid of substantial footings. All the stormwater and surface run-off feeds into five 25,000 litre in-ground water tanks, which in turn form the basis of a comprehensive irrigation system.

The clients asked architect John Price to design a two storey family dwelling, combining classical and Mediterranean styles. Their main requirement was that the focus be on entertaining, with an interconnected network of outdoor living spaces and a separate guest accommodation wing. The clients had also lived in Indonesia for some years, an influence which is discernable in the overall character of the house and its grounds — especially in external details such as the pillars, the wide pagoda-style eaves and pavilions, and the carved timber outdoor furnishings. Inside, timber furniture and oriental-style rugs and accessories create a similar effect, with glittering chandeliers and lofty ceilings lending a sense of old world opulence.

As the site is rather exposed — especially where it backs on to the water — John has placed the main residence at the front, surrounding it with landscaped gardens which will offer good shelter once the trees are established. He has used architectural elements to provide additional weather protection: a series of screen walls, covered walkways and open pavilions links the main house to the guest pavilion and beyond to the pool and boat shed.

The key living and entertaining areas are on the lower level of the main house. These formal and casual spaces enjoy a northern orientation to the front of the property, and a close connection with walled gardens and outdoor dining areas to the south-facing rear of the site. The heart of the entertaining zone is the ‘kermesse’, a formal dining pavilion — open on three sides — which features in Indonesian architecture. This area, marked off by sturdy pillars, connects directly with the pool via a straight path.

The impressive front entrance is sheltered by a large portecochere, the roof of which is tiled to echo the style of the house itself. Flanking this structure, a colonnaded walkway leads, on one side, to the garage and, on the other side, to the glass doors leading through to the bar/billiards area and the study.

This house has been designed to cope with the tropics, as well as the difficult site conditions. The cavity walls feature their own insulating layer of air, sandwiched between the inner and outer skins of brickwork. The second-storey bedroom wing rests on a suspended concrete slab, and the roof frames are trussed with integral extension pieces to support the deep roof overhangs. These wide eaves provide solar, as well as weather, protection. Openings to the east and west have been kept to a minimum, and wool insulation in the ceilings helps keep all the rooms cool.

Now that the house is finished and the clients have moved in (the house-warming party was legendary), memories of those site problems are rapidly fading. The family is now able to enjoy their spacious, secure and comfortable retreat.

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