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The Extraordinary Exoskeleton House

Architecture

This afternoon, Takt Architects takes us through their bold renovation of a humble bungalow.

Just south of Sydney, in former timber milling country, this striking and sustainable update is imbued with rich history and connection to place.

10th September, 2019

The Exoskeleton House. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

A renovation project by Takt Architects. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The wooden bungalow was built in the 1950s. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

Today it has been enveloped in a steel architectural shelter. Photo – Tim Shaw.

Adaptation and reuse of materials were paramount to the project. Photo – Tim Shaw.

In summer, cooling easterly breezes are shepherded into the home with high open ceilings. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The residence is bright and airy. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

This home began life as a 1950s brick bungalow in Thirroul. The town sits below the Illawarra escarpment south of Sydney in NSW, where many small timber cottage and brick bungalows were constructed to accommodate timber cutters, coal miners, and steel-workers. Brent Dunn and Katharina Hendel of Takt Architects explain ‘the imposing landscape was dotted with small timber cottages and bungalows built from surplus materials, from both the steel mills further south and local brick works.’

The duo embarked on this renovation, inspired by a desire to ‘set an example for sustainable development that keeps place with changing ways of living’, while remaining sensitive to its location, and the local qualities of place. The architects highlight how their approach of adaptive re-use aimed to sensitively respect the humble cottages and bungalows in the area (which is undergoing massive population changes), while ensuring the home is designed to meet the needs of today’s inhabitants.

Brent and Katharina describe the design process as one of addition, where they introduce ‘only the missing pieces in the puzzle’ and nothing more. A steel exoskeleton provides an architectural shelter, under which a new living pavilion is introduced using raw steel, recycled timber and site-formed concrete. This additional family space opens up the home, and connects to the garden – resulting in an incredibly striking architectural synthesis of a 1950s home, protected within a 2010s insect-like frame!

The renovation is also informed by principles of sustainability, in both adapting rather than demolishing and rebuilding, and in employing thermal design principles. In summer, the cooling north-easterly breezes are shepherded into the home via the sloping roof and internal high open ceilings. In winter, the architects describe a cosy scene where ‘sun-drenched concrete floors and the fireplace transform the experience of cold weather and early sunsets.’ The architects also highlight that the decision to adapt the existing house, rather than build from scratch, meant financial savings – and as a result, the clients were able to focus more on quality craftsmanship.

Brent and Katharina emphasise the role of their client in trusting them throughout this ambitious project, as well as the creative and respectful team of makers they enlisted to bring the exoskeleton to life!

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