Tower house renovation like a Tardis - small on the outside, big inside
The homeowners asked for a renovation where community, art and nature could come together. The architects gave them a village.
This renovation and extension to a weatherboard home in Alphington, Victoria, Australia highlights an unconventional design response by Austin Maynard Architects that not only thrilled the owners, but also caught the eye of judges in six major architectural awards in 2015.
The project, named the Tower House, won three of these awards and was Highly Commended in the World Architecture Festival House of the Year Award.
It's probably not surprising, therefore, to learn that the inspiration for the architecture was just as unconventional. And the couple's eight-year-old twin sons can take their share of the credit.
Architects Mark Austin and Andrew Maynard say that during an early design meeting they handed the twin boys paper and pencils and asked them to quietly entertain themselves while the adults spoke about "more important things".
"After discussing the complexity of designing a home, and the various possibilities, we had all found ourselves deep down the rabbit hole, confused, lost and tired," says Maynard. "We looked over to the boys to discover that they were not drawing cars, soldiers or dragons. Instead, they had drawn their house. With modest confidence they slid their simple sketches, complete with notations, to me saying in unison, 'there you go'.
"Their sketches distilled a lot of ideas. They had firmly pushed the boat off the shore and we were on our way."
Maynard says that although the owners wanted a lot more space, they wanted to avoid creating a monolithic home. And it was this requirement that further prompted the village concept.
"Tower House is anti-monolith. It defies logic as the exterior appears to be a series of small structures, while internally the spaces and functions are large and connected. Like the Tardis, it's small on the outside and large internally."
The architecture also references the immediate neighbourhood – a leafy, post-war suburban street near parkland and the Yarra River, with views to the Amcor chimney stacks. "With the exception of a few new homes the context is small, humble weatherboard and brick abodes. A chunk of large contemporary architecture would be an imposition in this context."
HELLO GOOGLE EARTH
And, in keeping with the digital age and GPS positioning, the architects took just as much care about the way the roof looked – from outer space. "Google Earth has made the roof the public face of our buildings, accessible to anyone at any time. With this in mind we deliberately designed Tower House so that it looked beautiful from the sky and from Google Earth."
PICK YOUR OWN
The sense of community was also an important factor in the design, with the architects saying they didn't want a house that would turn its back to the neighbours, as is so often the case today. They even asked the question, "What is happening to neighbourhood and community?"
Tower House addresses both. "The front yard is now a community vegetable patch," says Maynard. "Neighbours are invited to help themselves and, if they wish, do a little gardening from time to time. The rest of the garden has a high fence around it, however, you can see through the fence and, importantly, the fences can be left open wide. With streets on both sides, the Tower House neighbours can use the garden as a short cut and grab a few veges on the way through. With the gates wide open the line between public and private starts to get blurred."
A NET FOR THE BOYS
With most Australia homes being wide and flat – a lot like the landscape – the architects frequently explore the possibilities of vertical elements. Here, it is the boys' studio that's a wholly vertical space with a bookshelf running from floor to ceiling. Desks are at the base of the studio, and hanging in the centre of the tall space is a net where the boys can read or look out to the street and backyard.
Other special elements in the home include a library, which is lined in dark spotted gum and features a slightly submerged desk that feels as though it is buried in the garden. There's also a little hideaway in the roof space above the kitchen.
Sustainability is at the core of Tower House. The house is positioned to maximise sunlight in winter. And the openings and windows have been designed to optimise passive solar gain, thereby drastically reducing demands on mechanical heating and cooling.
The windows are double glazed and the need for ai conditioning is eliminated through active management of shade and flow-through ventilation. White roofs also drastically reduce urban heat sink and heat transfer to the interior. Other sustainable features include water tanks and high-performance insulation.
Flexibility is also provided. If required in the future, the house can be split into two separate zones with distinct entries.