North Avenue House, Leichhardt

By Rolf Ockert Design
alterations & additions

46 North Avenue, Leichhardt

By: Rolf Ockert Design

North Avenue House

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

The site is located in a heritage conservation area that is fiercly protected by Leichhardt council. Being in one of the few streets in the Inner West Sydney that are still largely original in their streetscape, any alteration or addition was bound to be somewhere between controversial and impossible.

Being only about 100m2 in size, the existing free-standing house was far too small for its intended use as a home for a young family with children. The only way to accommodate the intended brief was to build a two storey addition, something that did not exist in the area.

After long negotiations with the planning department who pretty much told us that the scheme was not approvable, the project was called to a full council meeting. It was due to the direct influence of the mayor that the design was approved as submitted in the end. The mayor acknowledged that old houses like ours were too small to be sufficient as family homes these days. Rather than extending the ground floor to the extent that any outdoor area becomes too small to be of use, the mayor promoted our approach to add a second storey instead.

What problems did you have to solve?

Our approach was to maintain and preserve the existing house in its entirety while designing the addition to be visibly modern. This was in the end supported by council's planning and heritage departments. Their only requests were to change the colour of the addition from white to gum tree grey (to match an existing tree on site) and to prevent overlooking into neighbouring sites.

The latter resulted in high level slot windows to the side laneway, thus allowing tree and sky views whilst still maintaining privacy. These slots then became a major design feature that was then continued in the pattern on the side facade.

The site was very narrow, meaning that the internal layout of the building had to be organised very simply. The linear stairs are not placed in line with the existing corridor of the old house but on the other side of the extension. As a result the relatively small space reads to be quite generous.

To facilitate ease of construction whilst maintaining integrity of the original building, the existing house was kept completely intact and largely untouched. A glass side strip and rooflights were inserted between the old and the new, not only clearly defining the two but also bringing light into the core of the house.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

Being on a very spatially restricted site, the structure had to be designed to be very efficient. The steel structure in fact swayed until the steel stairs were added, proving the simplicity of the design, which once completed is very strong and sturdy.

The design of the outdoors was done by a landscape designer the client had worked with before. As a result of good communication between all parties and great sensitivity to the architectural design, the landscape design marries to the overall concept beautifully.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

The house is located in a highly sought after area of Sydney. Most houses in this area are, as was the existing residence, too small and compromised to function as proper family homes for today's standards.

The clients now have a generous three bedroom house with large Kitchen/Dining area with direct connection to the outdoor space. While previously it would have been impossible to accommodate their needs with two children in the old house, they are now living comfortably in a very desirable area.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

With the orientation not being a matter of choice, like in pretty much all inner city locations, we had to accommodate a northern aspect to the far narrow side of the new extension. In order to avoid overheating in summer and to allow the winter sun in, projecting sun shelves were installed which control the solar gain efficiently.

The new building is highly insulated, providing a comfortable indoor climate in winter and in summer, as well as good protection against the aircraft noise prevalent in the area.

The site was too small to accommodate a water tank. To compensate, all sanitary fittings are rated as highly efficient and all planting on the site is indigenous, ie low water intensive.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

The resulting residence allows the clients to live comfortably in their area of choice which they love. Prior to this they were condidering relocating due to their spatial needs. This is no longer necessary.

In addition, the designed type, a first in the area, sets an example of how today's living needs can be accommodated in tight inner city locations.