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An Unconventional Country Home In The Southern Highlands

Architecture

Directors of Other Architects, Grace Mortlock and David Neustein, describe the quintessential modern Australian country house as a ‘machine for living in’ that dramatises the idea of dwelling in the landscape, by exaggerating the harshness and remoteness of its setting. 

Their recent project, Highlands House, offers a deliberately different experience. Rather than defined rooms, this project adopts an older and more universal mode of country living, where generations of people have lived in simple, open structures. 

The modestly sized home seeks not to be a bold architectural statement, but simply, part of the fabric of ordinary life – exactly as Other Architects intended. 

5th November, 2021

Highlands House by Other Architects. Photo – Clinton Weaver

The house in NSW Southern Highlands is a country retreat that will eventually become a permanent home, and a private haven that hosts occasional guests and gatherings. Photo – Clinton Weaver

The site for this project is located on Gundungurra and Tharawal land, overlooking the Illawarra Escarpment and distant ocean. Photo – Clinton Weaver

Other Architects replaced most of an existing cottage on the same footprint. Dining table by Simon Ancher Studio. Photo – Clinton Weaver

This brief allowed Other Architects to explore the idea of living in a single, capacious room; its spatial qualities defined not by corridors and walls but by daylight and openings, views and artworks, objects and furnishings. Dining table by Simon Ancher Studio. Photo – Clinton Weaver

An adjacent artist’s studio was retained, now used by our clients as a library and workspace. It has been repainted but is otherwise unaltered. Photo – Clinton Weaver

A beautiful seasonal garden created by the clients, Other and Michael Jackman surrounds the home. Photo – Clinton Weaver

Colour is deployed in concentrated bursts: a bright yellow door; earthy red in the boot room; a vertical slot of green glass in the ensuite; a canopy of golden light over the bed. Photo – Clinton Weaver

The bedroom opens directly to open space. Photo – Clinton Weaver

Photo – Clinton Weaver

The home’s pale green facade and predominant flat roof recedes into its surroundings. Photo – Clinton Weaver

A series of sculptural light scoops crown the otherwise flat roof and bring controlled daylight deep into the interior.  Photo – Clinton Weaver

The project offers a deliberately different experience to the quintessential modern Australian country house . Rather than defined rooms, this project adopts an older and more universal mode of country living, where generations of people have lived in simple, open structures.  Photo – Clinton Weaver

Amelia Barnes
Friday 5th November 2021

We want to help to create spaces that are so well suited to their purpose that they cease to be noticeable, allowing everyday existence, in all its beauty and complexity, to take over.’ – David Neustein

When Other Architects took up the challenge to create this unique home in the NSW Southern Highlands home, they immediately recognised the magical qualities of the tree-filled site, and the opportunity to a sympathetic yet subversive home. 

The site contained two existing structures – one a poor planned cottage ‘choked in vines’, and the other an artist’s studio. Other Architects proposed replacing most of the cottage on the same footprint, while maintaining garden, courtyard, and landform. The artist’s studio would be retained, as well as a small lower-ground space beneath the cottage to be converted into a guest quarters.

‘Various other architects had attempted to convince our clients to build a grand house with dramatic views on top of their hill. Rather than occupying the hilltop and relegating the remaining site to a driveway, we reassured our clients that they could create a wonderful home within the existing setting,’ says Other Architects director Grace Mortlock. ‘In doing so, we took on the challenge of ensuring that our clients would not regret commissioning a compact and modestly-located house.’

The house was designed primarily as a country retreat, with guests a secondary consideration. This brief allowed Other Architects to explore the idea of living in a single, capacious room; its spatial qualities defined not by corridors and walls, but by daylight and openings, views and artworks, objects and furnishings. 

‘We were interested in an older and more universal mode of country living,’ explains Other Architects David Neustein. ‘Throughout Australia and all over the world, generations of people have lived in very simple, open structures where daily activities – cooking, bathing, sleeping, gathering, working, relaxing – intermingle and overlap.’

Aesthetically, the home draws on inspirations ranging from Sigurd Lewerentz’s Malmö Flower Kiosk (1969) with its basic and unadorned form, clip-on windows, undisguised conduits; to the hedonistic simplicity of OFFICE ​​Kersten Geers David Van Severen’s Weekend House (2012).

Most significant however is the influence of artist Donald Judd, who bought a number of mothballed military barracks in Marfa, Texas, and converted them for his own use as hybrid living/working/exhibition spaces. Grace and David happened to be in Marfa when their design for Highlands House was signed off, and the pair found inspiration in how furniture was strategically placed in Judd’s work, to define and animate spaces. ‘In Judd’s work, we encountered an idealised form of rural life: a laconic, uncomplicated existence within simple, undivided volumes demarcated only by the placement of furniture,’ says Grace.

Highlands House’s pale green facade and predominantly flat roof recedes into its surrounding beautiful seasonal garden. Large sliding doors and windows retract entirely when opened, allowing sensations of the garden to permeate the house. 

The completed project is among a dizzyingly diverse array of work in Other Architects’ portfolio, all of which indicates a clear overarching value. ‘While radically different in content and scale, common to all of these projects is our desire to relegate architecture to the background,’ says David. ‘We want to help to create spaces that are so well suited to their purpose that they cease to be noticeable, allowing everyday existence, in all its beauty and complexity, to take over.’

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net