His first house in 1969 was (and still is)
an unusual Canberra example of the late twentieth century organic style of architecture based on a triangular module. The house was Laurie’s first commission in Canberra and displays the themes he would explore in his residential projects over the next three decades: the use of massing, geometric forms and deep roof overhangs in an energy efficient, solar house.
is an outstanding example of the late twentieth century organic style with its massing, use of geometric forms, deep roof overhang and energy efficient design. The successful implementation of a complex geometric plan based on a hemicycle is unusual if not unique for a mid-century Canberra house. The house has been published many times, in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia. Inexplicably, it is relatively unknown in Canberra.
The roofs and brick masses of Rivendell, looking north towards the Mount Taylor Nature Reserve
Convinced that government-financed housing had been a disgrace rather than a grace to the Canberra landscape, he set out to prove what was possible --
to design a house no larger in area than welfare housing of that time, 102.4m2, but one in which the siting, the exploitation of space, the massing, the concern for the environment, and the details, expressed in unequivocal terms what I considered to be architecture.
Taking his brief from his wife (no architect should deliver his own brief, he reckons) and allowing the site to suggest the house that could deliver it, he began a study of hemicycle houses, first designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the second Jacobs House, and designed this passive solar masterpiece for him and his growing family. Taking his cue from Louis Sullivan’s edict to “take care of the terminals and the rest will take care of itself” he held the public spaces of the hemicycle between the orthogonal cavity brick masses housing retreats, servicing spaces and study.
The French doors and stationary glass on the north face of the house encompass an arc of 90o [he explains], making it an architectural expression of the problem. This is also exemplified by the walls that define the terrace and mark the extent of the glazing.
Courtyard of Laurie Virr design at Murrumbatemen, New South Wales
Built with his own hands, he has lived and worked there –very comfortably -- ever since.
There are just two people living in the house at this time and it is comfortable for us, but there was an occasion when 56 folk gathered within and there was room for all.
NB: UPDATED 15 Jan to add corrected captions.