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Paving The Way For Smart Laneway Dwellings In Sydney

Architecture

As the need for density grows and property prices surge, McGregor Westlake Architecture offers up a new future for inner-Sydney laneways.

Architect Peter McGregor takes us through his innovative studio prototype, built out the back of his own Redfern home!

25th July, 2018

Peter McGregor’s quirky boundary-to-boundary dwelling ‘addresses its lane site in a positive way’. Photo – Brett Boardman.

Inside the Laneway Studio in Redfern, Sydney, by McGregor Westlake Architects. Photo – Brett Boardman.

This 25-square-metre studio was built for $150,000. Photo – Brett Boardman.

‘We wanted a similar unifying material for the interior that would be warm, robust, environmental and enduring: Australian Hoop Pine,’ tells Peter. Photo – Brett Boardman.

It was the perfect material, due to its warm honey colour and range of products, including solid sections, plywood and veneer panels. ‘This enabled us to design the interior, (including the stairs, wall linings, joinery, sliding doors and sills, heads and cover strips), as a unified harmonious whole,’ he adds. Photo – Brett Boardman.

Several coats of Synteko’s Rubio Oil was applied with a rag and rubbed off the pine. Artist’s pigments, including white, green and blue, were selectively mixed into the oil, to subtly articulate and highlight particular elements or spaces. Photo – Brett Boardman.

Windows to the east and west, in a shallow plan, provide cross ventilation and ample sunlight, which is also controlled by exterior blinds. Photo – Brett Boardman.

Sleeping nook and bathroom. The studio comfortably accommodates one or two people. Photo – Brett Boardman.

Elle Murrell
Wednesday 25th July 2018

‘Our project is, if you like, an attempt to put up a better model.’ – Peter McGregor.

All I know about The Rabbitohs is that they play some code of rugby and that Russell Crowe is a fan. What I also know now, is that the owner-architect of this compact, boundary-pushing Sydney studio is a fan too… so much so, that his team’s distinctive colours are emblasoned on the façade!

The unique 25-square-metre, $150,000 Laneway Studio was designed by McGregor Westlake Architecture. ‘Our interest is mainly in how architecture can contribute to the city,’ reflects firm co-director and principal architect Peter McGregor. The forward-thinking designer came to architecture through design, urban design and art. ‘This is why our work range is quite broad, from artistic lighting projects such as Llankelly place in Kings Cross, to apartment buildings such as an award-winning project in Woolloomooloo, to this studio, for example,’ he adds. Now that bold rugby-inspired mural is starting to make more sense!

Peter predicts there are going to be thousands of boundary-to-boundary studios and garage-top dwelling built in the lanes of metropolitan Sydney in the near future. When McGregor Westlake Architecture saw some popping up of ‘pretty average quality’, they weren’t going to just passively watch on. ‘We decided to design our own project, as a kind of case study of this increasingly common fine-grain housing type,’ explains Peter, who documented 120 new studios and found only five per cent to be satisfactory. ‘We put in a development application, which the council immediately rejected as not suitable – it was too square. We then met them on site and brokered a compromise.’

Nevertheless, his resultant studio remains rooted in the principals McGregor Westlake developed: a home that promotes being a good citizen (engaging with the laneway directly); being a good neighbour (minimising bulk, overshadowing and overlooking to neighbours); and lastly maximising internal amenity (implementing a mansard roof form allowing boundary-to-boundary building,  stair position articulating the larger volume to the street and the lower volume containing bathroom and bedroom nook to the rear, and clever storage integration throughout).

Peter feels that the council typically ignores these values when they assess development applications, and place over-emphasis on an ‘attic roof form’, which compromises the urban form and the internal space of such buildings. ‘They are approving the slums of the future,’ he adds.

It’s not all hopeless though. Peter is somewhat satisfied with having created a space that ticks off all the aforementioned principals, and that the Laneway Studio has become a place that guests really seem to love. His dreams is for the studio model to be multiplied across hundreds of lanes across the city, and to become a large urban project. ‘In doubling the height of existing frontages and adding another layer of use along their lengths, this building type has the potential to positively transform lanes towards the qualities of our best streets; active, connected and urbane places.’

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First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net