Melbourne’s inner-city streets are lined with rows of compact houses, but this one in Brunswick East designed by Tan Architecture is especially unique.
‘The brief was to design a small, modern, and energy-efficient home at the rear of an existing property for my client’s parents to live in,’ Tan Architecture principal Jos Tan says.
‘Although the family wanted to live near each other, a degree of privacy and separation between the two houses was desirable.’
Australia’s modern-day homes aren’t exactly optimised for multi-generational living, and Jos knew the house would have to be a ‘bit quirky’ in order find space for the usual amenities of a two-bedroom home — a laundry, bathroom big enough for a bathtub, and enough storage for a downsizing couple — on just 69 square metres of land.
‘While devising a solution, I envisioned a private and peaceful retreat, taking inspiration from Australian verandahs and courtyard houses in Malaysia and Singapore,’ Jos adds.
‘From a design perspective, one major challenge was [figuring out] how to insert a two-storey building into the backyard of an existing home without it being too visually imposing — while also providing internal spaces that felt generous.’
The new building was placed on the south boundary to maximise outdoor space and natural sunlight. To make the most of the ground floor, the kitchen, dining, and living zones were combined into a single open-plan space, with north-facing sliding glass doors that allow the living area to ‘borrow’ space and spill out into the garden.
‘The upper floor cantilevers over the lower level, which not only increases floor area upstairs, but also provides shade and shelter for the living areas beneath,’ Jos explains.
All the materials were selected for very practical reasons, as the client’s father (a carpenter) built the house himself. This lead to dominant use of warm timbers across the built-in joinery and the frame, however they decided on concrete terrazzo flooring for its minimalistic appearance and its thermal mass, helping capture and store radiant heat from the sun in winter. Solar panels are also hidden on the sloped roof of the new home.
Getting the design for a second dwelling approved by the local council was another crucial piece of the ‘puzzle’. ‘This other type of problem-solving is a somewhat less glamorous aspect of an architect’s work that’s not often talked about,’ Jos says. ‘In addition to the council-mandated path leading to the main street, we provided an alternative entry via the south-side laneway, which proved to be very useful.’
The biggest feat is how the house manages to balance the needs of the brief with these requirements, to create something homely, welcoming, and functional that Jos’ clients say ‘never feels small’.
‘This project demonstrates the ethos of “quality over quantity” that I think is needed to make our cities more sustainable for a growing population.’
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