Apartments with a view

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Sample text only. Architect Randal Marsh, a director of Wood Marsh Architects, was previously living in West Melbourne. His three-level home above the practice’s previous office was both large and comfortable. But Wood Marsh’s office at ground level became too small for their burgeoning projects, many of which are Melbourne’s landmarks – the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Shadowfax Winery and the Eastern Freeway, just to name a few. ‘Roger [Wood] and I were looking for a considerable amount of time. And then this opportunity came up,’ says Marsh. ‘It’s quite rare to find a site like this, one which potentially offered both city and water views,’ he adds.

Room with a view

The site on Beaconsfield Parade, Port Melbourne, is 40 m (131 ft) wide and 30 m (98 ft) deep, and was previously occupied by a factory. ‘We purchased the site with the client for whom we designed Port Phillip Estate Winery. He was looking for an office close to the city and we were after a larger office. This site also suggested apartments from the outset,’ says Marsh. The thought of living and working in the same building also appealed to Marsh. As well as the two offices, the six-level building includes sixteen apartments, four of which are two-level 400 sq m (4306 sq ft) apartments. With two lift cores and generous floors for each of the other apartments (200 sq m/2153 sq ft), this boutique development is unusual in Melbourne. 

While the glazing to the east and west is generous to capture both the city and water views, the western elevation, which receives the afternoon light and borders a neighbouring apartment block, is constructed from fluted concrete. This use of concrete was first seen in Wood Marsh’s Barro House in Kew, Melbourne. ‘We’ve always been interested in the texture and patterns with concrete. Even though these are concrete panels, they appear as one continuous concrete envelope,’ says Marsh, who was also mindful of diffusing the afternoon light. Also of interest for Marsh is the Brutalist architectural style from the 1950s and the work of modernist American sculptors, such as the late Dan Flavin. 

However, to create a lighter appearance to the concrete, Wood Marsh designed a continuous band of glass windows at ground level across the entire façade. Illuminated by LED lighting at night, the apartments appear to hover or float above the pavement, not dissimilar to Barro House, which has glazed walls at ground level and fluted concrete walls above. Unlike many apartments, where there’s an ostentatious lobby for those passing to admire, entry to these apartments is via a passage behind a series of glass security doors. Timber battened walls give way to a mosaic tile-lined lift. ‘It is understated, but there’s a deliberate sequence layout before you open each front door,’ says Marsh. The mood in the lobby at ground level is different from the ambience in the lift or in a passage. ‘You’re moving through different spaces, each requiring a certain treatment,’ he adds.

Creating a mood is paramount for Marsh. And it’s something that can’t be attributed to one space, detail or material. ‘There’s the emotional side to a space. It’s not something that can be created by just a few walls,’ says Marsh, who was also keen to provide a backdrop for his substantial art collection of European masters and contemporary American and Australian artists. The use of materials certainly assists in establishing a certain mood. This is where knowing what to use, and to what degree, differentiates a home that captures both these qualities. ‘Wood Marsh tends to work with a restrained palette of materials, fairly monochromatic. No one material tends to dominate,’ says Marsh. 

As soon as one enters Marsh’s apartment, there’s a sense of tranquillity. This is undoubtedly due to the broad watery horizon directly in front of the living areas. But it’s also due to the restrained use of materials. A matt concrete rendered wall containing a fireplace is thoughtfully juxtaposed with matt black stained timber walls. The concrete ceiling, which appears on both levels of the apartment, forms an important part of the envelope. And, to add texture, the floors in the kitchen and living areas are stained American oak. A charcoal black steel blade wall, piercing both levels, allows the art to still remain the focus. ‘The finishes in this place are quite minimal. I didn’t want them to compete with the art or sculpture,’ says Marsh. 

As there are impressive views of the bay and Melbourne’s skyline, Marsh was keen to capitalise on both vistas. At the front are generous windows and a sliding door to a terrace. To the east there is wall-to-wall glass, with the city providing a dramatic backdrop at night. ‘It’s extremely rare to have both city and water views, a condition seen more often in places such as Sydney,’ says Marsh, who often feels he is ‘floating’ above the water’s edge. ‘Wherever you stand in the apartment you see these vast expanses of water, into infinite space.’ 

With such an opportunity, it’s not surprising that the extensive glazing to the ocean is completely unencumbered with things such as curtains. The matt black aluminium frame around the glazing (7.5 x 3.2 m/ 24½ x 10½ ft) crisply outlines the view. And, to minimise visual intrusion, the terrace has a forty-year-old Himalayan pine bonsai tree, appearing to merge with the in situ concrete blade wall framing the terrace. Marsh also located the swimming pool, with its glazed front, towards the bay. Accessed from the terrace, or from the steam room adjacent to the living room, the swimming pool is well protected from the bayside winds and afternoon sunlight. Enclosed by concrete walls and a concrete arch, there’s a sense of swimming in a grotto rather than being in an apartment. 

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