There are two stories to this house in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Camberwell. One is its owner, a prominent plastic surgeon specialising in craniofacial conditions affecting children. He was a member of the highly specialised team of surgeons who, in November 2009, separated the Bangladeshi conjoined twins Krishna and Trishna in a 27-hour operation at Melbourne’s Royal Childrens Hospital. The other story is his and his wife’s obsession with the architecture of the great Mexican architect Luis Barragan.
Their interest dates back to around 1991 when, while working and training in Mexico City, they became familiar with the Barragan House in Tacubaya and experienced firsthand some of the houses of Andres Casillas de Alba, who worked with Barragan from 1964 to 1968, before forging a successful career of his own. Casillas, now aged 82 years, collaborated on Barragan’s signature work, the Las Cuadras, San Cristobal house and stables from 1966. Since 1994 he has overseen restoration works on the Barragan House now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Earlier in his career he attended the Ulm School of Design (a successor to the Bauhaus) in Germany; as well, in the late 1950s he worked in the Milan studio of Italian architects Mangiarotti and Marassutti.
Determined to have a Barragan-inspired house in Melbourne, in 2003 the couple commissioned Casillas to design a house for them on a site in a tree-lined street remarkable only for a streetscape of unremarkable late Edwardian houses. Originally conceived of as a modernist structure in white-painted, rough-cast render, in the manner of Barragan, there soon came a shift to constructing the house from insitu reinforced concrete; influenced by the surgeon and his wife’s growing interest in the concrete buildings of Tadao Ando (a trip was made to Japan to study closely Ando’s buildings and the quality of his concrete finishes) and the fact that one of Casillas’ own later projects was realised in off-form concrete. Reminded that Barragan never worked in concrete, the answer is that if Barragan were alive and still practising today “he would almost certainly be”.
Read the full story in Habitus issue #32, available now.
Words by Joe Rollo.
Photography by John Gollings and Christine Francis.