Renovating, altering and extending hold the romantic allure of combining existing, sometimes historic parts of a building into a new iteration. However, compared to a fresh start, working with old masonry, plumbing and roofing is often fraught with frustrations, both foreseeable and not. Thus, when Di Veroli Architects received a brief for the alteration and extension of a 1970’s cottage in the northern Sydney suburb of Marsfield, they put the site under close scrutiny, and eventually persuaded the client to demolish and start over.
“The decision to demolish the existing house and build a new house allowed for greater flexibility in fulfilling the Client’s very specific brief,” recall Cesare Di Veroli and Dana Rathova, architects at the practice. “This decision gave us, as her architects, much greater opportunities and posed less constraints in the planning stage and in the design process.”
The brief was indeed specific, reflecting many design features the client admired in Japanese architecture, as she had been living in Japan for a number of years, and planned to move back to Australia upon the house’s completion. From the clean lines of the house’s structure and its pared back colours and materiality, to the considered inclusion of vegetation and water features, the home is distinctly tranquil, yet abundantly functional.
The plot the house sits on is located at the end of a quiet cul-de- sac and is irregular in shape, having a curved street-front boundary and abutting a large public reserve at its rear. Maximising vistas towards this green space was an important aspect in the planning for the new house, and the second storey rooms and deck capitalise on these fully.
The site’s relatively flat topography also allowed for the use of the outdoor ground floor areas by the creation of a central open courtyard surrounded on three sides by the building and thereby maximising its indoor/outdoor entertainment use, together with the addition of a long lap pool adjacent to the courtyard which runs parallel to one of the side boundaries of the house.
The architects were also conscious of the architectural context in which the house sits, and did not want to clash with it. “The surrounding area is generally residential in character, predominantly made up of two-storey brick residences. The new, modern two-storey house therefore respects the general height and scale of other nearby developments,” they observe.
The retention of brickwork as the primary construction material for the house is particularly relevant, as it simultaneously satisfies several the brief’s objectives.
In terms of aesthetics, the ‘Architec’ Range Masonry System by Austral was first selected due to its wide range of colour and finish offerings. From these, the ‘Charcoal’ colour in a polished finish was chosen, together with matching, narrower intermittent bands of honed finished blocks. “The modern horizontal house design with its flat roofs and deep verandas called for a modern, external finish to best reflect this concept,” comment the architects. “The linear, horizontal nature of the design was therefore best reflected in the use of contrasting horizontal bands created by the polished and honed blockwork.” These subtle variations in tone and texture tread a fine balance of animating the structure’s exterior with aesthetic interest without compromising the purity of its minimalism.
In terms of functionality, speed of construction, low maintenance requirements and high thermal mass were also attractive qualities of brickwork. The selection of the blockwork for use as the external material on this project increased the overall speed of construction, as on completion of the external walls, no additional external finishes needed to be applied. Furthermore, the concrete polished blocks require only minimal maintenance and are self-cleaning, and their high thermal mass reduces the need for artificial heating and cooling, resulting in lower energy costs to the client.
The architects also perceive this style of masonry as offering a distinct emotive value, as “bricks or blocks in any project are preferable to many of our clients as they give a feeling of ‘permanence’ and generally reflect value to a client. This cannot be easily matched with alternative lightweight material external finishes.”
For all its benefits, however, the decision to include abundant brick and masonry components into the project could not have been sustained without a healthy relationship with the supplier, and on this, the architects reflect that “Brickworks were initially helpful with the selection of the blockwork by making available their showroom for our Client to visit and decide on colours and finishes.
Brickworks’ communication during the construction phase was also good in terms of answering questions about product details and stock availability.” The result is a spacious yet reserved home that sits comfortably in its Australian context while manifesting a number of Japanese architectural allusions, rich in subtle and intelligent design features.
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