Names like Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd loom large on the Australian architectural landscape, but there have been many talented and important local architects who remain under the radar of most. One of the more criminally underrated is the English-born Laurie Virr, who was a proponent of the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright and the man behind 1 Middle Street, Murrumbateman, which is a rare example of his work just 45 minutes north of Canberra.
So far, just seven residential properties in Australia have been attributed to Virr, who much like Wright was a keen practitioner of the organic architectural style. Essentially, this means an approach to design that carefully takes the natural surroundings of the property into consideration, including the arc of the sun, nearby plant life and the topography of the landscape.
While Virr didn’t have close contact with Wright during his lifetime, he did develop a close relationship with another notable American architect Malcolm Wells, who pioneered the earth-sheltered architecture that integrates directly into the landscape — similar to the hobbit holes from The Lord of the Rings. As a result, Virr’s enthusiasm for sustainable, low-energy design became a key to his life’s work.
Situated on a 1,985m² corner block in the town of Murrumbateman, the residence known as Stornoway features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and space for two cars to park (with an office making four bedrooms a possibility). The two-level brick home is also surrounded by gardens designed by the renowned Sydney-based garden designer Peter Fudge, whose plans were personally approved by Virr when the house was being constructed in 1999.
In true organic architecture style, the positioning of 1 Middle Street, Murrumbateman, in relation to the rising and setting of the sun was meticulously planned, to make the most of its warmth both inside and out. As a result of this, the sun rises with its rays directly facing into the master bedroom, before slowly rotating around the terrace of the angular residence, and filling the living room with light in the afternoons.
“The overall effect of the interior is one of light and lightness, with each space flowing seamlessly into the next,” explained the current owners. “Shadows flit and flicker on walls and ceiling according to the seasons.”
With a grid-based floorplan, Stornoway shares a lot of similarities with the home Virr designed for his own family that he called Rivendell — a nod to Tolkien’s final elven sanctuary. This grid also makes for excellent Wright-esque symmetry, as well as making the terrace and its surrounding reflection pond the focal point of the home.
The second level of the property is where you’ll find the office, which overlooks the terrace below, and the third bedroom complete with an ensuite bathroom. As you’d expect from an architect focused on sustainability, 1 Middle Street, Murrumbateman, features a 28,000-litre water tank and a number of other environmentally friendly facilities.
Only two families have lived in Stornoway since it finished construction, making the current sale of 1 Middle Street, Murrumbateman, a rare opportunity to own a significant piece of Australian architectural history. The property is represented by Marcus Lloyd-Jones of Modern House (whose properties are in a class of their own), with data from Domain indicating a price guide of around $1.4 million.