Studio Workshop’s Brise Soleil House is enrobed in an undulating timber

The neoteric dwelling set near Port Moresby that stands as a response to climate, site, materials, and labor, pays homage to local traditions.

  • February 12, 2019

  • Written by Arielle Abrigo

  • Photographed by Peter Bennetts

studio workshop
Overseeing a former cargo terminal, the 173-square-meter house is a cast-in-situ concrete building partially clad in an undulating wave-like timber wrapper which provides shading, privacy, and ventilation to the master suite.

In a particular setting, there are features that resonate with the visitor, or a passerby engaged in a quiet saunter. Size, beauty, light, and color, are elements that capture intrigue. However, the Brise Soleil house poised on a hillside in Papua New Guinea does more than attract whoever is within its reach—it turns glances into a sustained conversation, and simply invites one to dwell.

Designed and built by Gold Coast-based practice Studio Workshop, the compact two-bedroom house completed in 2017 is fashioned with concrete and dressed with a timber wrapper that provides shading, privacy and ventilation to the master suite. The elaborately made screen grounds beauty in practicality, an evident mark of thoughtful intelligence, which is driven by craftsmanship and strong material understanding.

studio workshop
View of living, dining and kitchen space from master bedroom.

The Brise Soleil House is occupied by an Australian emigrant who has lived in the region for 30 years, and it is the first of three structures to be constructed on the site, which was unearthed by hand with the support of jackhammers and picks. The two-storey house that faces west is accessed through a overlaid garden entrance on the ground floor. Intended for entertaining, it holds a game room that opens to the swimming pool, and a bedroom and bathroom. Its open-plan kitchen, living, and dining area are placed upstairs. Bordering these are the master bedroom, ensuite, and home office. Materials, massing, and the request to augment views, comprehensively affected the overall shape of the house.

studio workshop
The wrapper and doors are constructed from 50×50 millimeter rough-sawn acetylated pine timber, which is glued and doweled at digitally-executed complex half-lap joints. All these have an area of over 80 square meters with over 2200 pieces in total, and have over 700 unique pieces with CNC milled half-lap joints.

studio workshop
The Brise Soleil House’s main material is poured concrete, which was utilized to form treads leading to the second floor.

A lot of the architecture in the region was built using timber that is not appropriately tested, thus, leading to decay. On account of this, Studio Workshop has utilized concrete for durability and an off-form visual, combining it with timber to offset the firmness. The house’s undulating timber explores pliability, and is hinged on attaining efficacy in materials. It was made with Accoya, a pine that is treated to cut and prevent moisture for greater longevity, and was tinted to equal with the Kwila—a type of hardwood that helps timber from cracking or splitting—throughout the house. All milling, joining, finishing, and assembly into panels took place at the designer’s workshop, and was later on shipped to Papua New Guinea for the installation.

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Though each panel is unique, the installation method is identical, which took approximately two days for a crew of three laborers working exclusively by hand on scaffolding. The eight-door panels were similarly installed in one day.

studio workshop
The balcony breaks the hard geometry of the house and offers a faster means of ventilation when the shutters and screens are closed. The angled window fins break the planarity of the walls and help to obstruct views into the house.

The entire assemblage has been organized into a system of seamless panels and doors that performs not only to aid in transportation and erection, but also to minimize the need for excessively involved on-site labor. The screen around the master bedroom and the bathroom is a mix of shorter and longer timbers that configures the height of the screen, yielding the three-dimensional manipulation. Studio Workshop also assembled the pivoting shutter doors, which take the same silhouette but without the wave-like impression, as well as the ingrained seating, internal joinery, and other timber apparatus.

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From a design viewpoint, the wrapper praises local traditions of timber craftsmanship seen in the lowland stilt houses and intricately engraved canoes in the area. It employs a system of complex joints and a high degree of surface articulation, performing several purposes, namely: reducing the afternoon heat, letting light in as to cast a visual effect, and allowing sufficient ventilation. The timber screens present an idiosyncratic trait amongst the vernacular housing and typical apartment blocks seen in Port Moresby. These are also treated as a vigorous response to the conventional brise soleil. Furthermore, the design of the wrapper involves a broader discussion of screens and veils in equatorial architecture found in the canon of Modern and 20th century works of Ossipoff, Ferrie, Rudolf, and others.

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The wrapper flattens as it resumes around the building to become a full-height operable screen for the upper level gallery to control the western sun. And just before dusk, one is graced with views to the Coral Sea beyond.

The previous concept had openings cut into the screen for windows, but Studio Workshop eventually decided against it once on site. Balance Enviro Solutions, on the other hand, was behind the landscaping of the Brise Soleil House, which incorporates a green roof earnestly filled with highly resilient plants. Studio Workshop shipped the soil, drainage cell, and low-bitumen paint from Australia, and culled the plants from local roadside sellers. With its sonorous framework, Studio Workhop’s Brise Soleil House is clearly a product of its place, regardless of being so distinct from the vernacular architecture of the region, and it presently stands to demonstrate progressive design that has the faculty to incite and challenge other architectural topographies. B ender

READ MORE: WHBC Architects builds a big, broad brise soleil that safeguards a home