Superhouse

A new exhibition in Sydney looks at the world’s ultimate residential spaces. We’d happily move into any of the properties in ‘Superhouse’…

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What’s your idea of the perfect house? A glassy modernist cube cantilevering over a river? A sculptural concrete sanctuary in the countryside? Or a rough-luxe castle guaranteed to leave guests’ jaws dropping? Whatever your fantasy home, we’re pretty sure you’ll find it at new exhibition ‘Superhouse: architecture and interiors beyond the everyday’. 

Just opened at the Museum of Sydney, this thought-provoking show was curated by interiors magazine editor-turned-author Karen McCartney, and drawn from her October 2014 book of the same name, with expanded themes and fresh local examples. Celebrating standout contemporary architecture, the showcase features imagery by renowned British interiors photographer Richard Powers, with properties drawn from around the world. 'Each house has a different way of prompting thought about how we live or could possibly live,' says McCartney. 'For some people one place would be a delight whereas to others it would be inconceivable. It makes us question the norms.'

So what makes a house super? ‘A superhouse delivers a 360-degree completeness of form, its exterior and interior have a seamless execution and, above all else, it is awe-inspiring,’ explains McCartney. ‘This quality can be elicited from the perfection of its natural setting, a remarkable use of materials, an exceptional level of craft, groundbreaking innovation or a use of space that lifts the spirit. The exhibition demonstrates how architectural experimentation and daring can challenge notions of how we should live.'

ABOVE: River view of The Goulding Summerhouse, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, Scott Tallon Walker Architects, 1971-73 (restored 2002).
ABOVE RIGHT: Solo House, Cretas, Spain, Pezo von Ellrichshausen architects, 2009-2012. 
BELOW FROM LEFT: Astley Castle (dining room), Warwickshire, England, Witherford Watson Mann architects; Solo House, Spain, Pezo von Ellrichshausen architects, 2009-2012.    

Superhouses were selected from as far afield as Italy, the USA, Ireland, Brazil and Australia, spanning a revamped castle, a converted cement factory, a futuristic seaside escape and an intimate prefab. Just 15 houses made the cut, grouped under five key themes: Re-make, Finding Form, Small Spaces, Roof Tops & Skylines and The Land. Size is irrelevant to McCartney’s idea of the superhouse, instead they must demonstrate 'a strong connection with nature', mindfulness, and design that goes well beyond the everyday. Some explore the reinvention of existing structures, such as Sydney's Skylight House in Balmain. Others – such as modernist marvel The Goulding Summerhouse in Ireland by Scott Tallon Walker Architects, with its Mies van der Rohe-esque cantilevering pavilion – prove that small spaces can still pack an architectural punch, creating a contemporary statement in the countryside.

ABOVE: The Pierre house, San Juan Islands near Seattle, Washington, USA, Olson Kundig architects, 2013. 

Nature is a huge influence, as seen in Olson Kundig architects' The Pierre house, built into a rocky outcrop in the San Juan Islands near Seattle, responding specifically to its location. The UK's Astley Castle, a 12th-century ruin, was reimagined with a contemporary interior by Witherford Watson Mann architects, without falling into the trap of imitating the past (you can hire the space via Landmark Trust). By contrast, The Solo House is ultra-modern, its radical form flanked by view-blessed verandas with a swimming pool at its core. The Flinders House in Victoria, by Australian Wood Marsh Architecture, shows how both interior and exterior can be resolved spectacularly within a landscape. Even a humble prefab gets a look-in, care of the Almere House in the Netherlands; conceived as a temporary dwelling it became home to architect Jan Benthem's family. Audio and video interviews, immersive furniture and interior details, a members' curator tour and a talks series help bring the buildings to life.

BELOW: Almere House, Almere, The Netherlands, Benthem Crouwel Architekten, 1982-1984; Concrete House, view over Lake Maggiore, Sant' Abbondio, Switzerland, Wespi de Meuron Romeo Architetti, 2012; The Flinders House, Victoria, Australia, Wood Marsh Architecture, 2012.

What will characterise the superhouse of the future, say in 2055? ‘It is so hard to say,’ admits McCartney. ‘Our house [The Marshall House by Bruce Rickard in Clontarf, Sydney] was built in 1967 and aspects of it, such as the marriage of indoor and outdoor space, are still considered contemporary. Things move slowly. I would hope that houses are smaller, more efficient, more sustainable, that buildings are repurposed in a clever way and that nature finds a place.’

McCartney has just collaborated on a new book called White Rooms with photographer Richard Powers and her husband design journalist David Harrison, published by Penguin imprint Lantern on 26 August. ‘I also have another book project in the pipeline called Perfect Imperfect looking at the role of accident, serendipity, collections and patina in design, architecture and interiors. It will be published by Allen & Unwin's Murdoch Books division in April 2016.’  From superhouses to embracing imperfection? Expect the inspiration to keep on coming...
sydneylivingmuseums.com.au

'Superhouse: architecture & interiors beyond the everyday’ is at the Museum of Sydney, corner of Phillip and Bridge Streets, until 29 November 2015. The eponymous book is published by Penguin/Lantern ($69.99). All photos © Richard Powers.