A Traditional Queenslander Reimagined As An Adaptable Home & Workspace

When a project takes three years to complete, you can expect a few things to crop up that alter your plans. For the assistant director of Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, Tarragh Cunningham, and her partner artist Keith Burt, they foresaw the need for more space to accommodate two growing boys.

What they didn’t expect was for Keith to be a finalist in the Archibald Prize for two out of those three years. Now they had not only a growing family on their hands, but a rapidly accelerating professional trajectory that required a more adaptable home workspace. Luckily, Nielsen Jenkins were up to the challenge.

Sasha Gattermayr

You can’t see what lies beyond the facade of this traditional Queenslander. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

Timber screening shelters the bottom level and outdoor staircase. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

Unfinished timber and concrete blockwork make up the raw exterior at the back of the house. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The statement concrete blockwork contrasts smoothly with the treetop views beyond. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The upstairs living area is connected to the bottom bedroom and studio space with an outdoor staircase. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The interior bones were left largely untouched, save for a new kitchen and bathroom! Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The master suite is beautiful and restrained. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The main living area. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

An indoor-outdoor kitchen and living area flows seamlessly between rooms. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

Light and shadow change throughout the day, and with the seasons. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

Photo – Shantanu Starick.

The fig tree was the biggest challenge to the build, but became one of the best features of the house! ‘Footings were dug wherever possible between the massive roots of the tree and then a lateral steel beam supports a vertical frame of structural timber columns that hold up the roof and screening elements,’ explains the architects. Photo – Shantanu Starick.

Sasha Gattermayr
12th of March 2020

Tarragh Cunningham and Keith Burt’s home is in a rapidly densifying suburb of inner-city Brisbane, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at it. Even with a renovation that included a small addition to the rear, the traditional Queenslander remains burrowed in subtropical foliage and exhibits no signs of alteration from the facade. It’s only once you advance through the house that the floor plan opens up to reveal the alterations that make the whole place feel more expansive.

Architects Lachlan Nielsen and Morgan Jenkins (of Nielsen Jenkins) wanted to ‘maintain an appropriate sense of scale and volume within the old building’ while also catering to the client’s rapidly evolving needs. As the dwelling for a painter, two teenage sons and the assistant director of the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, naturally space was needed for a family, but also for an art collection and painting studio within its walls. Subtle adjustments to the original floorplan and structure of the house – such as closing in an old doorway to make a new hanging space for art, and using the old fig tree to plant footings for structural support – allowed for the bedrooms and studio downstairs to be separated from the main level living area in an economical fashion.

Keith was named as a finalist for the Archibald Prize twice over the course of the build, meaning the design for his studio had to shift to allow for small public showings before his major exhibitions. Coupled with the bedrooms for two growing children, there’s a poetry in the way the space has expanded and contracted over the years, with the changing requirements of the family. ‘It has been incredible to see how the house adapts easily to this more public function, and to see the way that people move through the work at these events and out under the tree for a drink in the garden,’ the architects describe.

Morgan and Lachlan drew on Carlo Scarpa’s restoration of Verona’s medieval castle, Castelvecchio, and Phorm Architecture + Design’s Whynot Street project in Queensland for inspiration when planning the renovation. This combination of medieval influence (!) and hyper localised architecture resulted in a cleverly fused domestic space that oscillates between public and private areas. Exposed raw materials such as concrete blockwork, an elevated concrete planter and unfinished timber were used for the extension, adding a modern edge to the traditional weatherboard exterior.

‘The light within the building changes dramatically over the course of the day, and the seasons,’ explain the architects. ‘The way the shadows of the fig tree interact with the order shadows of the structure is constantly changes and dynamic’ they explain, which brings another dimension of spatial complexity to this breezy, open house.  All in all, the result here is an exciting and beautiful family home, designed to be shared.

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