Traditional construction techniques – Victorian terrace house

JPR’S DESIGN BRIEF WAS TO CREATE a new family home on the site of a traditional Victorian terrace house. The challenge was to construct a building that displayed the hallmarks of contemporary design while fitting in quietly with the rest of the streetscape.

The house is located in a historic McMahons Point street classed as a conservation zone. This zoning called for a design that was sympathetic with the surrounding buildings, hut the architects were determined to retain a contemporary feel. To satisfy the clients’ needs, it also had to have room for four bedrooms, a workshop, an artist’s studio, and parking for eight cars (to provide for adjacent buildings as well).

The resulting house borrows from the basic design of its older neighbours, taking the form of a verandah-fronted, pitched roof, gable-ended terrace house, From the street, the house sits comfortably beside a Victorian terrace, with the same dimensions, angles and basic features. But it’s the details that set it apart. The roof, although aligning perfectly with its neighbour, is free from Victorian ornamentation, while the solid steel balustrades and verandah supports offer a clean, contemporary alternative to the 19th century’s intricate lacework.

Externally, the house employs traditional construction techniques, with timber frames and cement-washed, painted brick cladding. The roof is corrugated zincalume.

Inside, the house diverges from the conventional Victorian style by juxtaposing formally arranged rooms with open plan living areas. On the ground floor, an informal arrangement allows the large living and dining rooms to flow into the kitchen, casual dining and family rooms at the back. Generous retractable doors open onto the rear courtyard, garden and pool area, providing a large, open entertaining area that blurs the lines between interior and exterior living.

The first floor accommodates bedrooms, bathrooms, the study and artist’s studio, arranged more formally to give a sense of private space. But even here JPR have broken with tradition, creating a suspended bridge that extends through a central void and links the bedrooms with the studio. The bedrooms continue the indoor/outdoor theme, opening onto glass-roofed verandahs. The master suite is located in the second floor loft, and has expansive views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and city skyline.

Considering all the features that are packed into it, the house maintains a wonderfully open, light-infused interior. This is partly achieved by the large atriums extending through the ground and first floors. These spaces also act as ventilation stacks: when the loft windows and basement door are opened in summer, air is drawn over the cool basement surfaces into the interior. In winter, external blinds can be opened to let in eastern and western sun, and the heated air rises through the atriums.

Light is also admitted through the tall, semi-circular glass brick windows that stretch through two storeys on both sides of the entry atrium, White walls interspersed with splashes of colour and offset by warm wood finishes amplify the brightness of the interior, and complement the original artworks that are hung throughout the house.

The naturally ventilated basement is accessed via a ramp from the street and houses the workshop and garage. Due to the previous consolidation of three sites the basement has to provide additional parking for the adjacent terrace and a commercial office. Efficient use of space is made by employing a vehicle turntable and car stackers.

These and the other modern solutions created by JPR leave no doubt that this is a wholly contemporary house. It proves that fitting in with existing structures doesn’t have to result in compromise, and that history, far from being a restrictive force, is something that is continually created.

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