Architect’s Own Family Home Appears to Be Cracking Under The Pressure

Architects love designing houses for their own families, and architect Craig Rossetti of Rossetti Architects is no exception. But having moved his young family into 11 houses in not many more years, he says it was finally time to stop and smell the roses.

“My 14-year-old twins stamped their feet and said no more moves, so this had to be it.”

But he made it a worthwhile change, designing a brand new home for a site subdivided off the rear of a Victorian property in a genteel Melbourne suburb. And at the heart of his design, was a desire for urban consolidation and a recognition of dwindling resources.

“This was an area of wasteland and I wanted to reference that in the architecture,” Rossetti says. “The design started life as a sketch of left-over panels stacked up in a pile against the back fence. These became highly insulated 200mm steel and polystyrene sandwich panels, which are typically used for factory walls – they form the stepped roof above the living space.”

A mirrored splashback and front to the island bounce light back into the room.

The panels are supported by a structural steel and glass curtain wall, which is reminiscent of crackled pottery glazing. “It was intended to look as though the pressure of the heavy overhead panels was cracking the glass,” says the architect.

Neither a cobweb nor a giraffe

“Designing the wall was a long process. We looked at a lot of patterns as we didn’t want it to look like a cobweb or a giraffe, and the angles needed to be engineered to provide the structural support – we used 150mm by 150mm rectangular hollow steel sections that were welded together. The glass was glued to the outside using high-performance double-sided 3M tape, so it appears to float off the steel.”

Rossetti also referenced the original fencing around such properties by the exaggerated use of plinth boards for the house exterior, which were installed vertically. And because the entry to the house is from a rear bluestone service lane, he created a “tight and unassuming entry” that reinforces the contrast in the living space beyond, which appears to explode open with its high, transparent volume.

And of course, the view is oriented out through the crazed glass wall and over a swimming pool.

“There is a very strong emphasis on water, and the way the light plays across the water rippling in the pool – the pool is front and centre to the view,” says the architect. “The wind and rain make patterns on the surface of the water, and the dappled light brings a lot of movement into the house.”

What lies below

The roof panels have no gutters and during a storm it’s possible to see the water cascading like a waterfall over the panels through the high clerestory windows within the roof. The water then runs into long steel troughs, or gargoyles, and is dropped 2.5 metres into filter pits. From there the water drains to a 30,000-litre tank, which is the old swimming pool on the site. This is positioned directly beneath the master bedroom.

“When we needed something looked at, we had to send a diver down into the dark underground pool, through a trapdoor under the bed,” says the architect.

In keeping with a drive for sustainability, the house is designed to minimise solar gain in summer, while retaining the sun’s warmth in winter. There are narrow slot windows on the hotter west side of the house. These feature black shutters with laser-cut patterns that replicate the crazed glass patterning.

The narrow clerestory windows also face west and Rossetti says as the sun goes down, they “shoot light patterns up the walls”.

To keep the interior light and airy, there are mirrored surfaces on the front of the kitchen island and the splashback. The white perimeter cabinets and overhead veneer cabinets appear to extend right through into an adjoining scullery.

Off the wall

Another key feature of the interior is a large white panel that appears to float off the wall in the living space. “The light plays around the panel, which will one day be a backdrop for an artwork,” says the architect. “It mimics a large panel on the front of the house facing the lane.”

Rossetti says the design of the house is considerate of the neighbouring properties – while the house is two-storeys through the centre, at the edges it drops down to a low height so it does not dominate the site.

An old shed on the property was moved off to the country, where it has become a holiday hideaway for another family. “I had an older architect friend around here when that was being moved and he looked a little tearful,” says Rossetti. “He told me that exact same shed was his very first commission as an architect.”

Meanwhile, this architect and his family will continue to enjoy the history and serendipity of the property, and cement their own future on the site.