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.
Stirling House in Sydney, Australia by Mac-Interactive Architects
December 18th, 2014 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Mac-Interactive Architects
A new-build house replacing two very narrow 2-storey weather-board cottages on the same lot but in a very derelict state. After much discussion with Heritage it was felt that it would not be possible to restore them to anything other than museum status as they could not be brought up to current BCA standards. It was also felt that they were not of that much interest and very little original fabric existed. A fairly unique opportunity presented itself to insert a contemporary building into a heritage conservation area – allowing for a future reading of this particular period of Sydney’s development.
The Client’s brief was clear – they did not want a white box minimalist house.
Nor did they want a house that dictated the style under which they should live.
Visiting the Client for the first time to take the project brief, we observed that they had a very eclectic and interesting collection of artworks, designer furniture, industrial junk and ‘found-objects’.
This diversity combined with the brief that the style not dominate, seemed to lend itself to a more quirky and complex form (both internally and externally).
From here the project became about creating a child friendly house that had character and a story to tell. The house has already been dubbed The Ark by the locals.
This project presented an opportunity to re-visit the Sydney terraced house typology, which in recent years has been going through extensive re-assessment, as all terrace-houses are turned on their heads to connect the living area (previously a formal room at the front of a terrace) with the rear yard – the new focal point.
The kitchen has now become the central, less formal hub of the contemporary house.
To improve the quality of space (height) the entire building was dug marginally below pavement level to allow for more generous headroom within all levels. Advantage was taken of the (council-owned) pocket park which had the benefit of mature planting and is a much used facility in the community. Whilst the design clearly benefits from the pocket park on one side; the design could work equally well without the side windows.
The rumpus/play space in this house; in what would have been the attic in a traditional terrace remains connected to the rest of the house by being a mezzanine/loft configuration.
Architecturally, the form came directly from combining both the context of the surrounding 2/3/4 storey buildings and the numerical planning controls determined by Council – as well as book-ending the urban block and addressing the park.
As the diagram above seeks to demonstrate – once the numerical planning parameters were established they were then manipulated to respond to the context a mixture of 2, 3 and 4 storey neighbours) – thus deriving a form which was then articulated / sculpted by windows/fenestration that further erode the building “block”
The (Grey Box) timber cladding to the exterior was a direct homage to the derelict weatherboard cottage that previously sat on the site and the house makes reference to both the original and new building lines that create the streetscape.
Colour and materiality were used to articulate the client’s brief to separate the living space (passive – entertainment) from the kitchen/dining (active – entertaining).
At the same time there was a desire to link the two spaces indicate the journey that could be made either through to the rear of the house or upstairs.
Internally the programmatic intent was to avoid a white box and ensure that the ground floor did not feel like a ‘tube’ of living spaces. To achieve this, the living room and dining/kitchen area were separated by a joinery form that wrapped around the staircase, housing kitchen, under stair W.C./laundry and TV/Stereos.
MATERIALS & DETAILING
The relatively complex geometries in the structure of the house are offset by pared back detailing. The cladding appears to end abruptly against the sky (with no parapet flashing) whilst the windows wrap around the main edges to articulate the 3-dimensional form, tying the exterior and interior into a unique whole.
To maximise cost savings (and for aesthetic reasons) raw concrete was expressed on both the floors (sealed) and walls (where it was not sealed). All other walls and ceilings were painted plasterboard and the money was deliberately channelled towards the joinery which consisted of dark laminates and engineered veneers. These were chosen over other more expensive options and reconstituted stone was chosen over natural stone for robustness. We did not see these changes as compromises for a family house that needs to stand up to rigorous use that more expensive materials, can sometimes present issues with.
The existing building on the site was of interest from a heritage point of view, but was beyond repair and could not have been re-built in the same format and meet current codes in terms of room size, ceiling heights and staircases. The building was made up of 2 separate houses – each 2.7m wide, and no rooms were bigger than 2.7m x 2.7m
Strong flashes of colour are used sparingly but deliberately on items such as two walls in the attic / loft space (Water Paradise – British Paints), the sliding appliance caddy in the kitchen (citrus yellow frosted perspex by All Plastics), Orange ACTIVA Rubber flooring in the understair W.C. in association with Manuel Canovas’ ‘Bengale’ wallpaper.
A continuous lighting detail along the west wall expresses the raw concrete reinforced block-work which has then been white-washed. This walls focus is as an art wall and the adjustable track-lighting has been set up to augment this.
ENERGY EFFICIENT DESIGN
Speaking from a design point of view, none of the ESD principles are directly expressed in the aesthetics of the design – but rather are fully integrated into the built form. This was a direct result of not wanting to fetishize these elements in the sense of presenting them as add-on “gizmos”.
Rainwater is harvested in a 10,000 litre rainwater tank built into the planter in the rear yard, and used for laundry, W.C.s and irrigation.
The hot water system is gas-boosted solar storage positioned to minimise the runs to the outlets.
All materials were carefully chosen to minimise their impact on both the internal and external environment – joinery uses veneers rather than solid timbers, fly-ash was specified in the concrete, timbers were from properly managed (certified and sustainable yield) forests. All paints were low VOC and there were no phenol-formaldehydes in any of the materials.
There is no air-conditioning in the building – cooling happens naturally using good passive energy efficiency design principles. There is a fan in the main bedroom – although this is as much for control of mosquitoes as keeping cool. All northern windows are shaded by overhangs.
Heating is via a Chazelle GV900VAG dual action fireplace that operates as an open fire for effect/atmosphere or a slow burning combustion heater for a more efficient energy usage solution. All excess heat immediately above the unit is then sent to the two bedroom by fan-assisted ductwork.
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