Skylight House

By Chenchow Little
alterations & additions


By: Chenchow Little

Skylight House, photograph by John Gollings (left), Katherine Lu (right)

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

The Skylight House is part of a conservation streetscape. Heritage architects were engaged to restore the existing front façade, contributing to the conservation streetscape. 

What problems did you have to solve?

The brief for the Skylight House was alterations and additions to the existing dwelling to incorporate three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a new kitchen within the existing façade. Views across Parramatta River were to be maximised and the lack of light to the ground floor lounge room and rear of the site also needed to be addressed in the renovation.

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

The collaborative effort of the builder, joiner, structural engineer and all specialist consultants contributed to the success of the project. The builder’s enthusiasm and dedication to the project enabled the design to be realised.

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

The design strategy adopted in the Skylight House meant the entire site was utilised. Standard building techniques were practiced to keep costs low. Resources were allocated to detailing, materials and finishes.  In the Skylight House, detailing was not only explored as a functional necessity, but as a way of generating architectural effect, which was crucial to the design concept of the project. 

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

We have a holistic approach to sustainability in the Skylight House. We inverted the typical terrace house configuration by relocating the living room to the top floor to maximise sunlight into the house.  The living room is lit by a series of south-facing skylights that allow sunlight into the interior of the house. The central and rear courtyards allow cross flow ventilation and natural light into the building. Retractable louvers are used to control solar access and concrete slabs throughout the building provide thermal mass. Native planting was chosen for its low water usage and ease of maintenance, with rainwater being harvested for use in the toilets and the garden. 

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

In the Skylight House we have aimed to investigate an alternate spatial model for a terrace house, whilst still retaining the traditional form and street façade.

The Skylight House is part of a conservation streetscape and as such we retained and restored the street façade. This has an immediate benefit to the community as it contributes to the heritage streetscape.

The Skylight House fulfils the client’s brief and addresses their concerns while providing an alternate design strategy not typically found in terrace homes. Our response to the brief was to flip the floor plan; the dark introverted lounge room of the existing dwelling was relocated to the first floor where access to light, cross-ventilation and views could be maximised. This change facilitated the exploration of the roof and ceiling planes as spatial dividers and south-facing funnels for light, providing a continuous level of illumination across the living, dining and kitchen levels, and into the rear of the site. Two fluid horizontal planes have been inserted within the party walls; one forming a ground floor plane mediating the natural ground levels along the site, defining internal and external spaces; and a second along the ceiling line which is fragmented to permit sunlight into the length of the building.  The secondary bedrooms were relocated to the ground floor where light levels and outlook were less critical.

At the top of the stairs there is an unexpected, centrally located courtyard with a mature Banksia.   The courtyard provides private open space for the client while mediating the level change between the living room and dining/kitchen space.  

The ceiling of the rear pavilion curves up at the edges to scoop additional light into the rear volume.  A built-in daybed links the dining and kitchen spaces, and provides an additional seating area to maximise the use of the small space.

Other general comments

Architect: Chenchow Little

Builder: Michael John Projects Pty Ltd

Heritage Architect: Clive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners Pty Ltd

Structural Engineer: Ruggero Benvenuti – Benvenuti S.C Pty Ltd

Hydraulic Engineer: Damien Schaefer – TJ Taylor Consultants Pty Ltd

Joiner: Anthony Ritchie – North Shore Custom Cabinetmaking