Landscape homes by Fergus Scott Architects

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Fergus Scott opens our discussion with the admission that there is another Fergus Scott, a Sydney, who often gets his calls – our Fergus seems relieved that he doesn’t get too many calls for the other, finding the delicious mix of sketches and concrete a preoccupation infinitely preferable to that of its namesake.

After graduating in architecture from the University of Sydney in 1991, Fergus worked as a laborer on Peter Stutchbury’s Israel House. He found building a relief after the pressure of studies and continued to work with builder Jeffrey Broadfield. After a good stint on tools, he ended up working in Peter Stutchbury’s office before moving overseas.

Fergus began in Central America, soaking up the ancient sites of Mayan and Aztec architecture. Central United States was his next base, and he spent a lot of time looking at the sites of Frank Lloyd Wright, with Grant Hildebrand and Swetik Korzeniewski echoing in his thinking from his student days.

His stay in the United States was fertile, and he met and was influenced by Will Bruder, Rick Joy and Wendell Burnette. There were few homes at the time that truly celebrated a desert aesthetic — Wright’s Taliesin West was still a unique oddity, and towns like Phoenix sought to replicate Miami’s lushness rather than embrace desert materials. Rammed earth and adobe construction were still generally considered local or indigenous solutions. Rick Joy became a huge influence, leading Fergus to the work of Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, and other West Coast residential architects in Los Angeles and San Diego.

After returning to Australia in the late 1990s and another stint in the details of raw hardwood buildings for Peter Stutchbury (when he met Rick Leplastrier), he ventured out on his own in 2000, now with his partner Caryn McCarthy.

The Toumbaal Plains House refers to the “rudimentary details of timeless and pragmatic rural buildings”.

Image: Lee Pearce

Fergus Scott Architects’ first project, the Toumbaal Plains House in Yamba, northern New South Wales, was a simple family holiday home for friends. The land, near the coast but without a view of the water, was a place of transhumance, of bare fields. Part of the brief was to find a way to get the clients’ children to enjoy the scenery; the other part was to develop a hospitality house that spoke of the rudimentary details of timeless and pragmatic rural buildings. The resulting project is remarkably simple – early sketches recall rudimentary livestock shelters, a simple crucifix in plan with a nominal roof over parts, providing a corner in which to shelter from prevailing winds from all directions.

While every major project in the office’s seventeen-year history is very different, a common thread runs back to this first project. Fergus’ work continues to be primarily outside of Sydney and primarily driven by a response to dramatic landscape. He doesn’t actively seek out different types of work – he just works with the possibilities that present themselves – but he clearly loves and is excited about his role in landscape-defined projects. Fergus loves the fact that clients who are attracted to him already appreciate his skills. They understand that capturing the landscape in their project, engaging with their surroundings, is an essential part of working with their architect.

The Jilliby house, started after the success of Toumbaal, is located almost opposite its predecessor. The site is sunny, at the bottom of the valley, and Fergus has made a more permeable building, through which the large clump of blue gum trees can be seen huddled against its rear edge. The building is like a veranda between the forest and the field. The prefabricated portals echo the trunks of trees. There is a little more structure than enclosure, again echoing the architect’s repeated sentiment of “only doing what is necessary for the landscape”.

The Jilliby house is like

The Jilliby house is like “a veranda between the forest and the field”.

Image: Michael Nicholson

This loosening of contact with the landscape was then further stretched into the Quorrobolong house (see Houses 101). Again the site was fairly flat, but a history of underground mining in the area meant the solution was to let the site go under the building, which is built on a platform on beams that meet the sidewall from the hill. The spaces of the house are divided into public spaces, from which you can see over the land and the road, and more secluded private spaces, hidden from public view. The “table”, or ground plane, is marked with expansion joints to recall the watery vagaries of the solid ground below.

The modesty and regularity of the landscape of the early houses prepared Fergus well for the rigors of working with more spectacular sites. The Southern House sits on a dramatic headland near Bateman’s Bay, with spectacular coastal views. In this house, one of the most important jobs was to keep things from “screaming” too much, and so part of the role of the architect was to exercise discipline over all aspects of the work – it was good, if not better, to avoid floor-to-ceiling glass walls at sea.

Southern House is folded to capture specific views, with outdoor spaces between rooms protected from winds coming from different directions.

Southern House is folded to capture specific views, with outdoor spaces between rooms protected from winds coming from different directions.

Image: Michael Nicholson

Clients wanted to recognize the region’s red soil and black granite, and the maritime landscape invoked ideas of rusty steel or Corten. Fergus was able to experiment with Rick Joy drywall (but with stainless steel screws for the marine environment, and air gaps to ventilate the siding). By building along the contours and controlling the size of openings, Fergus bent the building to capture specific views. Protected outdoor spaces adjacent and between rooms are sheltered from winds from various directions. The confined outdoor spaces – including a sand garden – echo a rusting shipwreck washed up on a beach.

The Farm (see Houses 113) is the firm’s most recently awarded exploration of this theme of ‘house in a beautiful coastal dairy landscape’. His palette is even more stripped down than his previous coastal projects – all rammed earth walls, rising in blades from molded and modified grass terrain, like a series of found sedimentary rock outcroppings or ancient ramparts of castle. The floors and edges of the bridge and the sometimes visible foundation are cast in concrete, as are the heavy overhanging and shaded roof forms. The bedrooms, which are buried in the ground, are monastic, and the shared living areas are luxuriously lined with weathered wooden joinery and ceilings and raw steel worktops. As with all his projects, Fergus enclosed a protected exterior eagle’s nest between the wings, in this case with a large swimming pool and mounds of grass. Each side of this space is flanked by retractable sliding screens which also enclose catwalks when the owners are away or the weather is bad. This house, and indeed all the work of Fergus Scott Architects, is cautious yet generous in spirit; his homes are often made of spartan materials but made to feel very rich to the senses.

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