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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Small House in Sydney, Australia by Domenic Alvaro

November 16th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Domenic Alvaro

Small House wins World’s Best House Building at World Architecture Festival Awards 2011 ‘Project demonstrated commitment and excellence on many levels’

Small House in Sydney, Australia, designed by Domenic Alvaro, has won the ‘World’s Best House’ award at the prestigious World Architecture Festival (WAF) Awards 2011. The presentation of the WAF Awards are taking place during the largest global celebration of architecture – the World Architecture Festival, which is being held at the Centre Convencions International Barcelona (CCIB) this week.

Roof Terrace at night (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

  • Architect: Domenic Alvaro
  • Name of Project: Small House
  • Location: Sydney, Australia
  • Category: House
  • WAF Entry: 2011
  • Award: World Architecture Festival 2011 – Category Winner
  • Photography: Trevor Mein – meinphoto Pty Ltd

The ultra-compact vertical house is located in an urban setting and features an outdoor room on the top floor. It was designed by Alvaro not only to be his own home, but also to test a development model for downtown urban living as an alternative to the ubiquitous luxury apartment.

By proposing a vertical house type on an apparently useless piece of left over land, Alvaro and his partner have demonstrated a replicable model. Already the adjacent plot has been acquired by another future resident who will follow this fine example.

The building was selected by a panel of esteemed architects and designers, beating off competition from a shortlist of 18 entries.

Bird Eye View

The jury commended the project, saying: “Built on a difficult laneway site in Sydney, more than any other contender this project demonstrated commitment and excellence on many levels. From the concept right through to execution, employing construction techniques more typically used on large scale commercial projects in response to physical and budget constraints.”

Speaking at the WAF Awards 2011 Paul Finch, WAF Programme Director, said: “The World Architecture Festival is the world’s largest, live, truly inclusive and interactive global architectural awards programme. Attracting entries from internationally renowned practices to small local architects, the stellar quality of this year’s designs demonstrates their commitment to designing the world’s most exciting buildings. This year we’ve attracted more entries than ever before, with over 700 submissions from 66 different countries. Our congratulations go to the winners for a truly accomplished project.”

Night View (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

This is the 4th year the World Architecture Festival Awards have been presented, and by the end of the awards 38 WAF Awards will have been announced across the three main sections of Completed Buildings, Structural Design and Future Projects. The Festival culminates with the announcement of the prestigious ‘World Building of the Year 2011’ award.

The judges added that “a mention should also be made of two other Australian projects – Ian Moore for the creative re-use of Strelain Warehouse, which was a rigorous intervention in a disused warehouse. The second mention being Andrew Maynard’s brick extension, which not only had a strong agenda to re-define what a sustainable home should be, but which also brought a radical new identity to an otherwise anonymous brick bungalow transforming the life of the family who continue to live there.”

Kitchen (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

Previous winners include ‘World Building of the Year 2008’ – Luigi Bocconi University, Milan, designed by Irish practice Grafton Architects; ‘World Building of the Year 2009’ – Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in South Africa, designed by Peter Rich Architects of Johannesburg, and ‘World Building of the Year 2010’ – MAXXI (National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) in Rome, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.

The WAF Awards see unsung local buildings take on internationally acclaimed projects in what is the world’s biggest architecture contest. Unlike other architectural competitions, architects present their work in front of leading industry judges and a live public audience as they compete for the accolade of ‘World Building of the Year’.

Living room (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

Project in Detail

Small house is an ultra-compact concrete vertical house that adds to the urban fabric of inner city Surry Hills in Sydney. The site is so small it can fit into the garage of your typical sprawling suburban home (7mx6m). The philosophy of small house proposes to build upwards rather than outwards, by assigning multiple uses to single spaces, with flexibility for change in the future.

It is a house designed for myself and partner Sue “+ 1”.

Living room in night (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

With flexibility for change a single space can be subdivided into multiple zones:

  • Ground floor: utility/store/bicycle/parking
  • First floor: sleeping/bathing, storage,
  • Second floor: living (with optional additional zone for sleeping)
  • Third floor: food prep/eating/entertainment
  • Roof: a ‘working’ roof garden terrace (the circulation space enables a small study on the roof space, and the panel sliding doors open to enable the roof to become the 5th room of the house- albeit an outdoor room and herb, flower garden with over-scaled fig tree; thus creating a canopy effect )

Staircase (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

The above program is all connected by a series of pre-fabricated stairs – these draw air out through each level via roof-top sliding doors, maximizing vertical cross-ventilation. The large sliding windows maximise daylight, ventilation and frame city views; whilst the solidity ensures privacy from surrounding commercial buildings and good thermal mass. A services riser connecting each level enables the reticulation of all services and additional storage.

With an eco-conscious spirit in mind (and relatively modest budget), innovation was required for the construction, based upon a model of pre-fabrication. The two basic ideas were a structure with no columns to make effective use of the limited land area, and to achieve a final result which erased the sense of individual panels – in effect to make the building feel monolithic.

Interior View

The collaboration and integration of all specialist engineers and consultants fuelled the project to existence. The philosophy was to preplan the entire project so that as many components could be pre-made in the factory. The structure, built entirely from high quality precast concrete (including floors), was fabricated off-site, and erected on site over a four day period. Wall and floor panels, cast in provisions for stairs, balustrades, windows, light fittings, and the like produced off-site, minimised on-site construction time and disturbance to the surrounding neighbourhood. Low-E comfort plus glazing, also reduces the reliance on mechanical air-conditioning.


Small house investigates a new typology in the current urban living space, whilst still reflecting a contemporary lifestyle full of diversity and creativity; all for the cost of a city apartment. Locally, Small House has created a sense of safety and amenity in its immediate precinct and has completed the streetscape. Today, Small House, its architecture and sense of place, is appreciated by onlookers forming part of the Sydney City Architecture Walking routes.

As the sizes of cities continue to sprawl endlessly, Small House proposes an affordable way to live in the inner city and most importantly avoids the need to cope with the grueling commute.



Exterior View (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

Exterior View (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

Bathroom (Images Courtesy Trevor Mein)

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Category: House

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