We often talk about the “humble brick,” but while the material itself may be humble, the effects created with brick can be anything but as it brings texture, colour, contrast, pattern, rhythm and light effects to a building. At Brass House in Newcastle, New South Wales, brick is used to complement the landscape, emphasise the arrival experience and highlight the public spaces in the house, elevating brick beyond its long-standing reputation.
Brass House is the home of a family of four with two young children. Their brief to Mark Spence and Dana Hutchinson of Anthrosite Architects asked for a kitchen that served as the heart of the home, a covered outdoor area to engage with the landscape and separate children and adult bedrooms. They also wanted a memorable entry experience.
Brass House sits on a sloping block of land next to a state conservation area. The building steps down the subtle slope of the site to forge direct indoor-outdoor connections and create internal separation through changes in level.
The entrance to the house winds up a stone and landscaped garden path with plants and trees that will grow over time. Brick walls to either side of the path create an enclosure around the front door. The left wall is brick veneer construction with a crisp corner, enclosing the kitchen on the other side. The right wall is a single brick screen, enclosing a garden, and with a curved corner to soften the entrance. Mark and Dana selected Bowral Blue bricks to complement the dark tones of the dense surrounding native bushland and establishing the monochromatic external palette. “Brick is the key material of the design, used in the public spaces of the house to highlight and emphasise the value of these rooms,” says Mark.
These garden-entry walls have three adaptations of Flemish bond brickwork. “The Flemish brick-bond pattern allows for expressed, flush and open brickwork to create entry walls with variation,” Mark says. Expressed brickwork around the entrance creates contrast, while a combination of expressed and open brickwork on the garden screen promotes shadow and light effects and offers small glimpses into the garden. It also provides a textured backdrop for shadows from nearby trees and plants, further establishing the house within its natural surroundings.
A sliding glass door at the entrance allows for views through the house to the backyard. The interior has a stone-floor threshold with passages leading right to the private spaces and left to the public spaces. A covered outdoor room is straight ahead and forms the central point of the house, with kitchen, living and dining opening to it. The interiors are crafted timber joinery against a fresh white palette that contrasts with the natural colours of the landscape, drawing the eye outdoors.
The covered outdoor room provides space for alfresco dining and relaxing in the shade. Timber and brickwork used on the exterior of the house, continues around the perimeter this space to blur the lines of indoor-outdoor living. Bowral Blue bricks enclose the rooms either side of this space, while Bowral Capital Red bricks are utilised for the barbecue and fireplace feature wall. The red offsets the blue and is softened with an in-situ concrete wall around the garden and bench beneath the fireplace.
These walls have stretcher bond brickwork, with corbel details where the feature wall meets the glass openings. “There is a play of light and shadow on the brick surfaces throughout the day and throughout the seasons,” says Mark. “The rough, textural and crafted quality that is inherent of brickwork is heightened through the smooth flush-set glazing, in-situ concrete and painted fibre-cement sheeting.”
Mark and Dana worked with Central Coast bricklayer Matthew Oates of Brickslayer Australia to achieve the desired brickwork and meticulous attention to detail. “All brickwork was fully documented and specified, and Matthew was a capable bricklayer with the capacity to work to the detail specified,” says Mark. “The project’s outcome is richer as a result of our collaboration, and our understanding of what can be achieved is greater from working with Matt.”
Brass House is the first project Mark and Dana designed and detailed with brick, including their experience as employees in practice. “It won’t be the last!” Mark says.