The Pleasures of Absolutes

August 2020
First published in Green magazine, Issue #74 (2020)
What I Like About You: GRANT HOUSE (1994-1996)
Sunshine Beach, Queensland
Architect: Gerard Murtagh

Words by Stuart Vokes
Photography by Jon Linkins

Many years ago, when visiting the studio of Jon Linkins I was shown a suite of black and white photographs that Jon had just made of an intriguing house in Sunshine Beach.

I remember thinking that the homogenous, reticent manner and opacity of its facade was a radical departure from the heroic and gestural houses that defined the Sunshine Coast School in the nineties. The Grant House by Gerard Murtagh offered an alternative if not refreshing response to place and light.

Jon described that whilst on the shoot, Gerry asked him to capture the phenomenal quality of natural light by emphasising shadow, darkness and depth in his compositions.

It seemed unorthodox at that time for a Queensland architect to announce that to celebrate (natural) light, one must begin with darkness.

Years later I would pause over a passage from In Praise of Shadows¹ by Junichiro Tanizaki, recalling this sentiment.

A decade after its completion and inspired by Jon’s photographs I organised a week-long family vacation at the house during the brief period it was listed as a holiday rental.

We arrived late on Friday night, delayed by an enormous thunderstorm that battered the region causing a loss of power. From the vantage point of the fortified peninsula of the ‘outdoor room’ we peered out towards the ocean, rendered softly by the moonlight beginning to break through the clouds.

Come morning we experienced the sunlight filtering through the 4mm gaps in the relentless hardwood board cladding.

During the day the dimly-lit interior offered a place of recovery from the over-exposure to the extreme white light of the beach where we spent each morning. By not prolonging the condition of the landscape, the interior offered domestic conditions that increased one’s chance for repose and contentment, informed by Gerry’s clever observations of human occupation and comfort.

Juhani Pallasmaa2 wrote that Deep shadows and darkness are essential if buildings are to invite intimacy and awaken the imagination.
I often return to those black and white photographs of the Grant House, and find myself drawn to the pleasures of absolutes, and in particular to the light, or darkness.
1 Tanizaki, J, 2001.In praise of shadows. Vintage, London
‘In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house.’

Pallasmaa, J, 2005. The eyes of the skin. architecture of the senses. Wiley-Academy, Great Britain