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Of Poms and Pavilionisation.

I have been in Australia for over half my life thus by pure maths I am now more Australian than English yet still get sledged as a whingeing Pom. I’ve heard various origins of the POM word; one being that it stands for Prisoner Of her Majesty and was an epitaph given to the very earliest arrivals. Version two is that it is the condensed form of pomegranate and refers to the ruddy complexion of early disembarking, pale-faced early boat-people. I read somewhere that a Brisbane based Pom took a newspaper to the Human Rights Commission bleating that the use of the word pom was an act of racial vilification. I embrace the term however and as a token of the close relationships of the two countries. 

One of my more persistent whingeing rants deals with the appalling lack of attention given to the way housing blocks are laid out in suburban subdivisions. There has been a huge ‘ball-drop’ in regard to basic solar principles, a classic case of the law of unintended consequences resulting in a “duh?” moment now writ large. It is almost inconceivable to me how such a high a proportion of blocks facing completely and utterly the wrong way continue to be rolled out. With a long axis going north-west it is almost impossible to get good orientation to living areas without significant architectural gymnastics.

This leads me onto the topic of the week which is how to deal with such blocks. I have often found that the idea of the ‘pavilionisation’ of the house is something to place into the design thought bubble. With a series of carefully conceived rectangular parallel pavilions arranged on an East-West grid (ie long side facing North) and connected by understated links some surprising results can be achieved despite the adverse starting conditions.

In the suburban situation for new houses not only does the pavilionisation method solve the solar issue it allows for human scaled courtyard spaces to emerge from the gaps between the built elements. These spaces effectively become outdoor rooms allowing for the, loved by all, inside-outside connections to arise naturally. They also offer options for a variety of seasonal conditions and can also become a strong aesthetic component of the overall composition.

The idea of pavilionisation also is a left-field way of dealing with steeply sloping sites where the different building elements, being relatively modest in scale allow the overall building to be stepped up or down the contours.  This minimises the cut and fill necessary and the associated costs. Monolithic buildings often incur significant expense in just getting out of the ground and to the observer appear to fight the slope rather than embrace it.

For extensions and alterations pavilionisation can be a simple way of adding area. I often like to think that the extension component should contain the most important aspects of the house which nearly always is the family/meals/kitchen area. In my view the starting point for any design should always be to ‘get the best stuff in the right place’. If an extension is ‘pavilionised’ it affords itself the opportunity of an individual and separate architectural expression, even something quite different from the original. The big mistake is often to carbuncle the new lump onto the old. In the pavilion model the existing house can remain largely as it is and be seen effectively as the annex to the new rather than the other way around.

In the rural situation the idea of pavilionisation often comes into its own. It is a not only a method of addressing the solar issues but of producing discrete pockets permitting the building to protect itself from the wind. Often driving along highways in the country one sees a McMansion sitting lost in the landscape like a pea on a drum. Conversely the look of old homesteads that have an organic appearance suggestive of individual elements created over time are more pleasing to my eye. This historical reference can also be a model for the new where a cluster of appropriately scaled elements congregate to give the appearance of a settlement rather than a formal structure in the landscape. They sit in the landscape rather than on it.