Palm Garden House (1974–76) marks a most important moment in Australian housing. Its light cradling of space and absolute immersion in landscape has affected and inspired generations of architects.
The house hugs the western earth wall and tucks into a palm-filled gully on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. For 45 years it has nourished its owner, who shares it with the birds, insects and water dragons that inhabit this cool, meandering oasis of garden and water.
Clearly influenced by his time in Japan and his deep respect for land and landscape, Leplastrier chose to place two small-footprint rooms with their vaulted, hull-like ceilings toward the west of the site and to connect these pavilions with a linear arbour of fine steel framing. A secondary roof runs the length of a southern rammed-earth wall and protects the compact service spaces. The earth wall continues beyond the pavilions and lightly defines the garden within a palm grove. As Leplastrier explains, “Implicitness is far more alive and rich and experiential than explicitness.” *
The craft and craftsmanship evident in Palm Garden House heighten the awareness of the hands that have made these spaces. The high, semicircular roof rolls back and opens to the sky, a fly roof of rolled copper sits above the rich timber ceiling, origami-like pleated fabric fills the arch and fabric walls can be lowered and raised. The play of materials and detail, solidity and fragility, complexity and simplicity is deeply memorable. Palm Garden House is ephemeral yet enduring, complex yet elemental, garden yet house.
*Quoted in Ray Edgar, “Falling in love with landscape,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 2020.