Located in the inner Melbourne suburb of Kensington, this project responds to the limits of a very tight, landlocked site, to create a bright, spacious interior. The new living area is experienced against the background of the historic part of the house—an expression that was carried into the program for the added bedroom, kitchen and bathroom areas.
The fabric of the original 1896 cottage was carefully restored and, from outside the new rear addition is experienced as a low, translucent metal box. The profile of the roof and services are partially visible against the sky, through a cut metal screen which is poetically based on a William Morris pattern from the same year that the original house was built.
The plan form was established quite quickly. The smaller functional areas are carved out of the western block, in much the same was as rooms were carved into the massive walls of a Keep. The sense is one of passing through a familiar but confined interior, into a more open space that is simultaneously interior and exterior, with a quality of natural light that is neither one nor the other but is both.
The 4m high interior appears to expand beyond the glass skin to be defined by the 5m tall, neighbouring brick wall and its impressive climbing Ficus. The internally focussed nature of the site is fully exploited.
The design also plays with the transparent and reflective nature of glass to optimize an illusion of spaciousness. The full height glazed walls allow for an uninterrupted visual connection to the site boundaries. The reflective nature of the glass virtually replicates the interior, apparently superimposed on the exterior surfaces, particularly at night.
The original external areas were little more than light wells and were too small to serve any useful function. Using full-length sliding glass doors/walls below a datum height of 2400mm, the new external areas become extensions of the interior, and vice versa. Eventually, these external spaces are intended to appear as lush, dense green spaces. A multi-sensory connection to the external environment is further enhanced through the manipulation of natural light. The design taps into the fact that the changing natural phenomena, experienced from inside, continue to feed a sense of wonder for the occupants, long after the New Home sense of novelty has worn off. As such, the ability to perceive the passage of time is a central element of the conceptual approach.
A shift of the living room roof generated a continuous glazed slot around the perimeter, through which shafts of sunlight enter the space from different directions through the whole day. This floating expression for the roof proved to be the most technically challenging part of the project. Three primary beams are apparently supported by a single column, with the entire assembly being restrained laterally by concealed, timber-framed shear walls. The connection between the beams and walls is reduced to 25mm thick steel blades, an expression that reflects light and appears to defy the structural forces at play, subverting the apparent weight of the overhead plane.
Finally, the conceptual expression was also inspired by the work of James Turrell, with the edges being tapered to remove any perception of structural depth. The overall intent is to effectively flatten the roof so that sky and ceiling become one.
(Photography: EBD Architects)
October 18, 2021