Location: Melbourne, VIC
Architect: Kavellaris Urban Design
Photography: Capital Images
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Lacing the traditional townhouse typology with innovative touches, Kavellaris Urban Design have created functional, elegant homes that subtly play on their context.
Built early in the city’s establishment, the townhouses in Melbourne’s suburb of Hawthorn show a reserved luxury that speaks of generational affluence. Unsurprisingly, the area is not known for radicalism, either political or architectural.
In this setting, the team from Kavellaris Urban Design was briefed to create a high-end townhouse development that was sustainable as well as context responsive, and versatile enough to appeal to both families and empty-nesters.
For Billy Kavellaris, Director at the practice, the challenge lay in rhyming with the surrounding townhouses, without simply replicating them. A key response in achieving this was to intervene in the site’s basic layout. “We essentially bisected the site into two halves,” recalls Kavellaris, “We created our own internal street. The idea was to create a landscaped boulevard environment so that the townhouses at the front of that street share a similar typology to that in a residential street, but on a smaller scale.”
Beyond opening a series of orientation options, this fashioned a pedestrian dimension for occupants and neighbours alike, provided a canvas for landscaping in the middle and at the periphery of the site, and permitted greater separation between the townhouses, affording abundant light and cross- ventilation to the residences.
Moreover, in redefining the plan of the development, Kavellaris says, “[we] looked at the roof forms, which was a very dominating factor to that sort of housing with big roof forms, big features. That was one of the leading architectural interventions for the proposal. The forms, and the geometry, and the roof lines are trying to pick up on the cues of the symbolism and the geometry of the context. Our objective was to essentially iterate these in a more contemporary way.”
Indeed, the crisp lines of the houses’ silhouettes are a defining feature, and their rhythmic repetition both binds the development internally and evokes the outlines of its surrounds.
At a more granular level, materiality and colour were indispensable to the equilibrium between the familiar and the new, and counterbalance the more modern lines of the site and structures. Colours include “shades of brown, and timber, and charcoal,” comments Kavellaris. “Just visually, they blend in with the streetscape.”
“The material palette, again, was trying to essentially be sympathetic to what’s already there,” Kavellaris continues. “The Hawthorn demographic is very conservative. The immediate vicinity was essentially established postwar architecture, or early 20th Century. Traditional by nature, and not very eclectic. There’ s a lot of Victorian, Edwardian sort of housing.”
“Our view was to create a future context that preserves the history of the immediate context, but using a more contemporary and forwardthinking language.”
Accordingly, the project comprises three main building materials: bluestone, timber and brickwork. Cool and even, bluestone anchors the project’s floors, internally and externally, while timber accents soften and warm. But brickwork is especially prominent, and covers most of the buildings’ façades in dense and varied textures, geometries and plays in transparency.
“There are four types of brick bond patterns for this particular project,” Kavellaris explains. “If you look at the fences, you’ll see that they’re a traditional brick bond. Then, if you look at the upper levels of the townhouses, they are a stack bond. In other words, they all line up like a grid. The third pattern is the bricks that are expressed, and have a small cantilever, so they create depth and texture. Finally, the middle section of the townhouses has a ‘hit-and- miss’ pattern to get a level of transparency in the brickwork. Especially for the six townhouses facing the street, we had the brickwork to the front where you actually can get light through those bricks.”
“The texturing, the patterning has a number of layers,” Kavellaris continues, “You have colour. You have geometry and shape. Then you have relief and texture so that you can actually create different shadow effects; because it faces north at night, when the light hits it at different times of the day and different times of the year, those bricks that protrude will cast different shadows. That adds a bit of drama to the building.”
The effect is certainly dramatic, and elaborates the robust Bowral Brahman Granite bricks into a surprisingly delicate and nuanced aesthetic realm. As with the site’s plan and the structures’ design, the way brickwork has been deployed at once sustains and expands on Hawthorn’s urban fabric, and makes a respectful nod to the suburb’s historic Hawthorn clay brickworks bricks, referred to as ‘pinks’, ‘blacks’ and & ‘browns’, which were used to striking effect in many local houses.
“It’s a nice ’60s and & ’70s sort of exploration that a lot of the architects were doing by then, but also experimenting with patterns in the brickwork and texture in the brickwork so they weren’t just presented as flat bricks,” reflects Kavellaris.
Kavellaris sees those decades as pivotal in how bricks were used, and consequently, in how Australian architecture has evolved. “I think now, we don’t only use brick as an aesthetic, but we use it as a language to create textures and patterns,” Kavellaris says, “You can create curves, and you can do all sorts of things through the technology that has been developed. There are no rules anymore. You can get bigger bricks, slim bricks, brick tiles. That gives us architects opportunities to create new narratives, and new design explorations for projects. It’s exciting to look at that from an architect’s point of view.”
A crucial facilitator in this project, Brickworks is at the bleeding edge of innovation in brickwork, engaging with architects to meet ambitious custom briefs and ensure clients are satisfied. “[Brickworks] were very helpful,” Kavellaris says. “They’re good supplier. Their technical support is great. They assist us in being able to propel the idea or the concept in the way that we want.”
Kavellaris concludes on a personal note, professing an almost philosophical appreciation of bricks: “I like the fact that you’re using a whole bunch of small things to create a bigger picture. You have one little brick in a cluster of a larger matrix that’s used to create a language.” In light of this project, this appreciation has yielded impressive results.
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Colour: Brahman Granite