Art & writing studio, photograph by Katherine Lu
How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?
The context is made up of semi-detached houses on small lots, very restricted and without rear access. In this context it is difficult to expand the footprint of a house without significantly impacting on one’s neighbours. The project responds to this context by containing all works within the existing footprint, replacing an existing rear shed with a new art & writing studio and otherwise rearranging spaces within the existing house.
What problems did you have to solve?
The existing building was in poor condition, the wiring was faulty, the roof leaked, it was draughty in winter and hot in summer. These were the physical problems. The family of four were literally in each other’s way most of the time because both adults work from home. There was no sense of private space and communal space, one person’s work would be interrupted by another’s cooking and so on. They had considered selling and buying a larger house but were not able to find anything that meet either their needs or their budget.
Rather than tearing up the space internally, we focused on re-arranging the way the family used the spaces. We designed a compact but efficient studio at the rear of the property which is divided to accommodate working areas for the artist and writer separately.
The studio also blocks off the neighbours’ house which had previously overlooked the backyard. Instead, we created a courtyard garden which has become an outdoor room.
Before, the house was long, dark and airless, with two little windows at the very back. But by cutting out the back wall and a side section of the house, two new indoor/outdoor areas were created which opened up a wealth of opportunities and potential.
What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?
There was a very close collaboration between the architects and the small team of builders because the project was very nuanced. Weekly meetings took place during which every detail was discussed and resolved.
How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?
The clients had a small budget of $150,000. Therefore it was imperative that architectural interventions be restricted and yet each intervention has great effect. Without design it would not have been possible to achieve the client’s requirements within their budget.
What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?
The client presented us with an unconventional brief in the form a poem:
"Dear Architect, Builder of Cities, Spice Merchant of Homes:
Build me a room to read and brood;
Make me a space to think in majestic solitude...
… Give some thoughts to the summer heat
which would lift me dreamily up from my books.
And winter cold can be soporific too.
So feed the room with body-affirming warmth from the sun,
and funnel its ray through mesh of airy devices…”
This spoke to us of the desire for a delightful and purposeful architecture but also one grounded in sustainable principles. The architectural approach was a series of subtle but transforming interventions. There is a fine interplay of communal and personal spaces. Individually, each intervention seems minor, but when put together as an ‘ecosystem’ of architectural spaces, the transformation has significantly impacted on the way the clients use the house, without significant environmental impact.
What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?
The project clearly shows that it is possible and desirable to reconstruct existing buildings in dense urban neighbourhoods. The clients benefit from an exponential improvement in their living and working environment within a restricted budget. The community benefits from the retention of housing stock, the minimisation of environmental impact and long term residents remaining in their neighbourhood.