Perched high on a cliffside plot in Bowen Hills, a suburb just north of Brisbane’s CBD, La Scala is the private residence of Ingrid Richards and Adrian Spence of Richards and Spence. Drawing upon four years of collected ideas, the architects desired to create a house where the outside space acted solidly as its centrepiece. The resulting dwelling – a section of which was resolved by Ingrid with a sketch on a napkin while on holidays – evokes snapshots of the Mediterranean and Central and South America. Its bare masonry standing out under Queensland’s famed blue skies.
Bookended by two distinct sections of the house, the outdoor oasis reads as a multi-level amphitheatre-like arrangement of full- and half-height concrete masonry blocks, laid in horizontal gestures. Gently tiered terraces contain tufted grass and rambling foliage, while glistening reflections off the enticing pool dance across the garden walls. Few homes have an outdoor swimming pool at the heart and, of those few, it’s unlikely any match the glimmering beauty of La Scala.
The home represents a defiant inversion of the norm. “Our town planning regulations are very prescriptive in the way that they assume you are going to put a house in the middle of the block and have a yard around it – and we wanted to do the opposite,” says Adrian. Placing emphasis on the outdoors and specifying raw, light concrete blocks for the construction were appropriate choices in a city that basks in seemingly endless sunshine. The bold material choice also marks a continuing theme for the architecture practice who has employed near-whitewashed concrete blocks in other designs, including the Calile Hotel, with both aesthetics and sustainability in mind.
“For our work in Brisbane, we’ve tended to use a light-coloured masonry,” says Adrian. “I think that’s because we feel it’s appropriate for the hot-weather city we’re in.” Longevity has also played a part in the home’s design, with Richards and Spence giving consideration to the life cycle of the building beyond their own residence, and, according to Ingrid, tapping into “the kind of sustainability that’s about not having to keep rebuilding the same thing over and over again”.
“We thought this building in another 10 years could become a gallery or a restaurant or have some other use beyond purely domestic,” says Adrian. “We try to make things that are flexible so they can endure different types of occupation.” While Adrian describes the masonry as looking “almost like a ruin in the way it’s kind of naked … in its detailing”, the house has a glamorous, sun-kissed vibe that’s undoubtedly ideal for entertaining.
For now, Richards and Spence can do just that, making particular use of the monumental outdoor space – whether for parties or in private. “There’s a point where, if you’re lying in the pool facing the building, you get a silhouette of the sky and it feels really wonderful,” says Ingrid. “It feels like you’re alone even though we’re quite close to the centre of the city.”
We thought this building in another 10 years could become a gallery or a restaurant or have some other use beyond purely domestic.