The challenge to recycle materials and to repurpose objects adds a new dimension to design and building. Beginning with a green-field site and purchasing the material from a hardware store and furniture from a catalogue is the easy way. Sourcing old materials from unexpected places and employing them in new ways creates a unique style and ethos that cannot be contrived or bought.
Many modern buildings require a finish to hide the loose workmanship. This not only creates a uniform and bland finish that has to then be differentiated by extraneous ornamentation but has also led to the loss of craftsmanship from the building site. Where possible, we have left the building and the materials unadorned. We have chosen materials with a raw finish and allowed the natural contrast of colour and texture to create the visual appeal. This is very evident in our foyer where we have combined steel, copper, timber and concrete to create an elemental yet warm and inviting space.
To use old materials as they are requires skills that are no longer common on a building site. For example, building trades now expect timber that is flat and straight and bricks and pavers that are square and even. But it was not always so. And if we are determined to repurpose old materials we will rediscover these age-old skills of working with natural materials as they are. For instance, one of the sculptures displayed in the foyer showcases three old wooden spirit levels collected from different farm clearing sales; two nineteenth century mason’s levels, and an early twentieth century one. The older levels rightly show a lifetime’s hard use. They are displayed in a frame made from a doorjamb of Australian Red Cedar (Toona Australia sp.) from a house built in Queanbeyan in 1848. The Red Cedar is twisted and warped and to thickness and straighten these boards would have wasted most of the salvaged timber. I have used the timber ‘as is’ and made a bevelled mitre frame that not only showcases the age of the Red Cedar(including layers of old lead paint) but features the bent timber itself.
Designing and building in this way has given us a real insight into the Craftsman Movement and it’s vernacular architecture showcasing the asymmetry and texture of ordinary materials. This is very poignant because this was, after all, the architectural movement that inspired Walter Burley Griffin, Marion Mahoney and the early architects of Canberra.