Horse: Hi Alex, you were one of the first interviews we did in Room For Horse, can you give us a quick idea of what you have been up to since we last spoke?
Alex: Hi, time flies and it has been 5 years since that interview. I’m very pleased to be feature at Room For Horse again. Back then it was very early in my Australian venture as a Residential designer since I had just moved here from South America not far before we spoke. I am a lot more settle as a local professional now.
Summarising, after gaining some experience working for an Architect in Wollongong on my first year, I decided it was time to take a step forward and go on my own again and re open my Design Studio at the beginning of 2011. Got an Unrestricted Accreditation as a Building Designer with the BDA (Building Designers Australia) along the way and it hasn’t stopped from there.
Using this interview as an excuse, I look back now and realise that I am designing my project number 45 in the Illawarra now in only 4 odd years. I had to reinvent myself here, start from scratch and put my name in the market as a home designer. It hasn’t been easy, new country, language, regulations, lifestyle. I am very happy to be settled now and to provide design from my Bulli Office to our local area and beyond.
Horse: How did you collaborate with the owners at Hospital Road and were there any other people that you ended up interacting with creatively on the project?
Alex: The project at Hospital Road, the “Pavilion House” is a very special one for me. Chris and Marion (owners) contacted me after two different people separately gave them my details. They had seen my overseas portfolio and thought I was the right person to take on the challenge for their brief and site.
As a blended family with teenage kids heading into adulthood, their brief was very different to my other projects: they wanted a house split in pavilions were it would possible to have separate but interconnected areas. They both do shift work and “recovery corners” were essential.
A site with great aspect towards the bush and tall canopies, plus the pavilion component and their brief, it was an excellent frame to design something different, addressing their lifestyle through architecture and providing a constant sync with the surroundings.
Chris and Marion had a major contribution along the construction process since they decided to take on board some decision making for specific finishes and purchases. I love collaborations when they feel right and I felt confident from the start with them taking that role along the way.
In a similar way, collaborations with Steve Carey from Steves Joinery and Kearan McMenamin from Blue Tongue Pools provided a wonderful contribution to joinery, kitchen and pool respectively.
A very special mention to David Jennings from David Jennings Building Services and his crew, without them and their input none of this would have been possible.
Horse: How did the environment affect the design of the project and did the design change very much from initial conception?
Alex: The site is amazing, but was actually a very complicated one. The access is through the rear and slopes down from there towards the bush, but although large in area, it has a good number of easements and restriction boundaries plus a fire track running across it from side to side meaning that the actual building envelope was small and complicated.
However, the design approach was to use those constraints in our favour. The great presence of the trees at the bottom of the site and the slope played a great role on the design. We used a centre open courtyard with a pool and a terrace right after going through an “entry” freestanding wall. The open courtyard is bounded by a detached garage and a rumpus room on one side, and the main pavilion with living areas on the other, bringing the perception of the bush canopy directly across the entire house.
Due to the location and slope, by the time the house reaches the furthest point away from the entry, all areas are essentially at canopy level and the design’s mass value and features addresses exactly that.
Underneath, the second pavilion runs perpendicular with all bedrooms and ensuites in sync with the bush and views as well.
In terms of the design’s evolution along the process, I am a firm believer that if you listen to what the people want properly, and study and feel the site’s opportunities in the right way, the final result will most of the time be similar to your first sketch. I like to keep the sketches of all my projects and look back once they’re finished. For this house, I can see a bunch of lines and the first concept sketch on a tracing paper and look at them side by side to the final plans and photos, and can see that the information was already there from the start.
Horse: What are your favourite features at the property?
Alex: I would have to say that my favourite thing is the way that the house relates to the bush and vice versa from pretty much every corner of the house. As designers we have a very big responsibility in how we affect the landscape. Houses are going to be built and people are going to interact with its surroundings, but we have to design them in a way that the relation keeps its harmony regardless of the architectural presence of a building.
The full front of the top pavilion can be opened towards the canopy and make you feel that the bush is right in the middle of your lounge, or dining, or kitchen. At the same time, as you walk closer to the edge, you can feel that you are right in the middle of the canopy and its branches, and leaves, and birds. It’s a bilateral interaction between the house and its user with the landscape around.
Horse: Do you speak to the occupiers? Has their life changed?
Alex: I do, we started this project a couple of years ago, and due to the site’s conditions we took a long time to get it off the ground. By designing a house for someone you play a very important role in people’s life, you design for them and whatever you create will become part of their day-to-day life for a long time. Inherently you become really close.
Chris and Marion had been amazing since day one, and as they moved to their new home and start providing actual life into it and making it their own we’ve been in constant contact, sharing that excitement.
I would like to believe that my projects can change people’s lives, it is not until someone moves into their new home and have day to day life there that you can tell, but looking at Chris and Marion’s smile can be a very good indication.
ALEX URENA DESIGN STUDIO
DAVID JENNINGS BUILDING SERVICES
Joinery & Kitchen:
BLUE TONGUE POOLS