Meet the Architects Blurring the Lines Between House & Garden

Grasses sprouting from the upper walls of this North Fitzroy house add an element of delight to a narrow street.

There was no room for a tree on the 11-metre by 4.5-metre site, so the house became the garden, changing colour with the seasons, architect David Luck says.

“We were trying to encourage some habitats for the local bugs and butterflies. That was the main aim,” he says.

At a time when parks and gardens are under intense pressure from the increasing density of city living, the Grass House is a compelling example of how architects are finding places for greenery within buildings. Although it would be a mistake to think green walls such as these could ever replace public green spaces, David says.

Inspiration for the grass in Grass House, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Victorian Architecture awards, came from French architect Edouard Francois and the work of “green” architecture proponent Emilio Ambasz. “Planted en masse, the small-scale grasses and groundcovers look a bit like a tree canopy,” David says. “When the wind blows, the building shimmers.”

A bonus is that the soil and its containers help insulate the building, making it a more pleasant place to live, he says.

House plants have been wildly popular for some time, but in Grass House, the planter system sits outside the building. David looked at various planter systems before settling on Corten steel planter boxes, made by a specialist metal worker. The boxes are mounted on steel brackets, attached to the building’s structural steel frame.

In summer, the plants are watered from tanks strapped to the rear of the upper level.

“The idea is that the grasses die off in summer and bounce back after a bit of rain.”

The owner can access the garden to pull out any weeds by stretching out of the upper-level windows or with a ladder from the footpath. However, a perfect landscape is not the point.

“It would be nice if the garden got a bit dilapidated over time as insects like constant habitat,” David says. “It would be nice to let it go into weediness, and get away from this manicured garden look.”

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