Location: Australia, Balmain
Area: 210 m2
Our idea is to create three townhouses with security parking (the original brief) that are contemporary and exciting yet completely at home in the historic neighbourhood of Balmain.
Covering just 2/3 (approximately 180sqm of 270sqm) of a tiny urban infill site that has amazing views across the trees and rooftops towards the city and Anzac Bridge, the houses are designed down to the millimetre to accommodate competing fire regulation and separation, amenity and utility requirements. In return, such constraints result in an interesting sequence of dynamic spatial experiences that direct (movement), expand and contract in different shapes and forms.
“I’m blown away by how you managed to fit three efficiently planned homes on such a tiny site, all with dual aspects. Absolutely stunning!”
— an Architect at the AAA ‘At home with the Architect’ self-drive architecture tour.
Inspired by the fine-grain character and eclectic context of Balmain, the street frontage has two 4m wide houses (House A and B) sitting side-by-side with a 1m wide open corridor in between. It provides common access to a central open courtyard, followed by entries to the houses whilst encouraging casual social interactions.
On the West, House A is 3-storey, white, has a flat roof and mimics the envelope of the previous building on the site; on the East, House B is 2-storey, grey and mimics the profile of the adjacent terrace house. Whilst the two houses are linked, the effect is to create an appearance of two separate houses that add to the sequence of different dwellings along the existing streetscape. Street frontage elements are also articulated and aligned to key datum lines to seamlessly integrate the two houses with adjacent neighbours.
The choice of external materials reflects the humble origins of the suburb. Weatherboard cladding, off-form concrete base walls, timber-framed windows and standing seam metal cladding are combined in different arrangements and colours to give each house an individual character and identity. Internally, the houses have different spatial qualities, views, vistas and relationships with outside, including subtle differences in interiors that reference Balmain’s industrial heritage and its eclectic architecture.
Each house is flexibly designed to offer a number opportunities for occupation. Open-plan living areas are excluded from bedrooms but are visually connected with the street and its surrounding context hence contributing to passive surveillance.
House A has a vertical spatial expression as it is internally linked by a dramatic open-riser steel stair. On the street level, the secondary bedroom suite has level access via a small terrace hence it is convertible to a home office. The ground level contains open-plan living areas and a corner balcony whilst the top level contains the main bedroom suite, all enjoying panoramic district views.
House B has bedrooms on the ground level with open-plan living areas above. The long living space flows horizontally from the kitchen on the street side to the North-facing terrace with a saw-tooth roof similar to local warehouses that gives the house the quality of a local workshop.
House C has open-plan living areas that open to a generous North-facing grassed garden. The centre of the house has a dramatic double-height void containing a top-lit open stair that enjoys views back down the open corridor to the street.
Despite the density and site constraints, each house enjoys ample solar access and effective cross-ventilation. House A has high-level, operable North-facing windows that admit direct sunlight deep into the living areas through the stair void. Together with the North-facing louvres in the kitchen and South-facing primary openings, effective cross-ventilation is provided throughout the living areas.
In addition to a large North-facing opening, House B has operable skylights with integrated blinds on the North-facing planes of the saw-tooth roof that admit direct sunlight. Together with the openings at each opposite end of the living areas, effective cross-ventilation is provided.
House C has large North-facing openings that are protected by timber sunshades and privacy blade walls. They work with the South-facing louvres around the entry to provide effective cross-ventilation throughout the living areas.
Other notable sustainable initiatives include reversed block veneer construction; Low-E and double glazed windows; highly insulated building envelopes; timber floorings; light-reflective interiors; low water-use landscapes; optimised deep soil areas; rainwater tank; on-site detention tank; provision for bicycle parking and clothes drying (hills hoist); tubular skylights to top-level wet areas; efficient fittings, fixtures and appliances; 6 star gas instantaneous hot-water system; gas cooktops.