The Great Wall of W.A.visarchiwebsite
Designed by Italian-born, Australian-based architect Luigi Rosselli, these truly unique residences embody the landscape and vernacular of the Australian outback.
Embedded in an undulating 230 metre rammed earth wall in an arid, remote enclave in Western Australia, The Great Wall of W.A. harks back to the frugal material pragmatism of opal miners’ subterranean dwellings in Coober Pedy, South Australia, or even further afield to some of the vernacular forms first celebrated by Bernard Rudofsky, in his ground-breaking Architecture Without Architects exhibition at MoMA.
Informed by genuine humanist and environmental principles, Rosselli cut his teeth studying with and working for some of the most influential architects of the late twentieth-century, including Alvaro Siza and Mario Botta. The award of the new Australian Parliament House commission to New York firm Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp Architects in 1981, saw Rosselli move to Australia as part of the design team. Since then, he has designed hundreds of program and site-responsive projects around Australia, as principal of Luigi Rosselli Architects, Sydney.
The Great Wall of W.A. consists of twelve earth-covered residences, providing short-term accommodation during the cattle-mustering season. Monolithic earth walls of 450mm thickness and rear wall/roofs of sand dune and desert foliage are endowed with an abundance of natural thermal mass, creating interior spaces perfectly suited to the harsh, sub-tropical climatic conditions. Extreme diurnal fluctuations in temperature, characteristic of the region, are mitigated by the slow release of coolth and warmth from the natural materials.
The rich and vivid tones of the rammed earth facade is created by a sandy clay, with a high iron content, dug from the site, aggregate sourced from a nearby river, and water sourced from a local bore. Alongside the twelve residences, the complex also contains a multi-functional hub, meeting room and chapel. The close attention-to-detail and material relationship to the natural surroundings is continued right throughout all built forms, with the aggregate from the local river evident in the reddish-tinge of the polished concrete slab. Interior spaces, designed by Sarah Foletta, continue the material dialogue of the architecture, creating restrained and naturally elegant spaces.
Amidst the earthy palette and contours, there is one unexpected and conspicuous design element: a golden anodised aluminium clad ceiling, within the obliquely conical roof structure of the chapel. Lit from a skylight at the apex, this creates a striking aesthetic contrast, enhancing the chapel’s relationship to the attending rammed earth walls and arid terroir.
Of his design methodology, Rosselli maintains that his approach is “humanist, where people and environment take precedence over pre-conceived design dogmas.” This ‘humanism’ is evident in the way the forms and materiality of the rammed earth structures reconsider and frame the inhabitants’ relationship to the immediate natural environment. These are dwellings in and of the earth, evocative of masterworks steeped in the phenomenological tradition, like those of Peter Zumthor, but also of the critical regionalism popularised by Kenneth Frampton in the 1980’s.
The Great Wall of WA was selected as a finalist in the Australian Institute of Architects – Western Australia Architecture Awards.
Facts about The Great Wall of W.A.
Kristina Sahlestrom, Edward Birch, David Mitchell