Elsternwick House

Quick Facts

Location: Elsternwick VIC

Structural Engineer: The Meyer Consulting Group

Bricklayer: All Things Brick Block & Stone

Builder: BD Projects

Architect: Jackson Clements Burrows

Photographer: John Gollings

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The higher summer sun is excluded by overhangs such as deep eaves or a patio.

Orientation on the traditional Australian ‘three- box’ layout – front garden / house / backyard – is easily achieved where the rear of a property faces north. But what about those sites with less than optimal orientation?

Melbourne-based architects Jackson Clements Burrows turned the problem on its head, or more correctly on its side, on this site which runs roughly east-west along the side boundaries. The solution was simple: turn the house ninety degrees and place it near the southern boundary, opening the long northern face to the sun and a garden.

This is the technique JCB also used on their award-winning Middle Park house (featured in this issue of designmag). In this design, however, the garden is enclosed, bookended by pavilions to form a very private space for the family of six.

“The design has altered the way in which the inhabitants engage with the external spaces,” says JCB’s Graham Burrows.“Through careful site positioning, alignment and fenestration, the house encourages the occupants to experience the adjacent landscape as if it were another room in the house.The ground floor of the building folds around the northern courtyard, ensuring that the private garden can be experienced from the most parts of the house.”

Burrows describes this as imparting “a real sense of theatre”, transforming an otherwise typical backyard into “a stage setting where entertaining and recreation is the daily performance.”

The heritage location in the inner-south Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick – the polychromatic splendour of Rippon Lea mansion is in the neighbourhood – required sensitivity to the local built form while establishing its own contemporary presence. From the street, the building presents as a two-storey dwelling attached to a single-storey pavilion, relating to the height variations typical of the area.The pitched roof forms, deep reveals on the upper bedroom and use of face brickwork also contribute to the heritage response.

The design “both assimilates with and critiques” the local context, Burrows contends. On the one hand it picks up on the materiality and some design details but the layout of the form on the block challenges the usual centralising of the dwelling “which tends to treat the garden as leftover space.”

The building structure is a conventional timber frame clad in brick veneer. But that’s where the conventionality stops. Large glazed doors slide back to connect the vast main living/kitchen/dining area with its timber-lined ceiling to the long northern garden, blurring the distinction between internal and external. The garden’s rectilinear forms contrast with the sculptural informality of the house.

The blurring between inside and out continues at the main entrance where the face brickwork enters the house, which seems to be an emerging trend.“I think this is becoming a little bit more common,” agrees builder Joe Dema of BD Projects.“We are doing more projects now where they are integrating that external finish inside and extending the relationship between the outside and the inside.”

The brick-clad upper ‘dormitory’ level is cantilevered some two metres to provide essential summer shading along the northern elevation.The brickwork on this level is supported on steel beams cantilevered off columns to form the main beams of the upper-level floor structure.The north-facing windows on this level are fitted with retractable sun screens.

The bricks are Daniel Robertson London Roman, a 50mm-high brick that is extraordinarily popular in Melbourne’s upmarket suburbs such as Toorak. In this project they are laid with a charcoal tinted mortar and raked joints. “Paul Golding from All Things Brick Block & Stone is a quality tradesman,” Dema commends.“We use him on most of our jobs.”

Aside from solar orientation, the building incorporates a wide range of design features and technologies to ensure excellence in environmental performance.Windows are double glazed and the building’s narrow plan form encourages cross-flow ventilation.The brickwork, floor slab and hard flooring provide a high level of thermal mass which is also capitalised upon by the gas-fired hydronic heating system.And, of course, face brickwork is an enduring, low maintenance material that doesn’t require finishing to preserve its appearance or performance.

Jackson Clements Burrows can take pride in having created a contemporary classic – in terms of both its design and performance – that will enhance the streetscape of this heritage suburb and the lives of its occupants.

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