A Rambling Fitzroy Terrace Resurrected Through Reducing + Reusing
This Victorian terrace in Fitzroy, Melbourne was once ‘muddled, confused, dark and in a sad state of disrepair.’
The residence had been separated into two dwellings in the late 1960s to operate as a boarding house, then reconfigured again in the mid 1980s into a three-bedroom apartment at ground level with a bedroom and large studio above.
Austin Maynard Architects (AMA) were engaged to consolidate the disconnected floor plan and make the awkward home more liveable.
The clients, Vaan and Hilton, asked for an environmentally-sustainable home that was practical, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. Green and open spaces were the priority over large bedrooms with en suites.
AMA presented a solution to the home’s key issues and more: remove the existing dilapidated centre. While this would reduce the amount of floor space within the home, it would open it up to more light, and create opportunity for more outdoor space and a new side entrance.
Vaan and Hilton were on board. ‘Creating a light well in a renovation sounds pretty stock standard for a dark Victorian house. For AMA, it was having the audacity to remove the double-storey side wall to open up the heart of the house, creating a laneway entrance via a bridge and over a pond,’ says Vaan.
‘Needless to say, we were sold on the idea. We had to let the team know of our delight immediately so they could let go of the breath they were holding while trying to gauge our reaction on losing two large rooms in the process!’
The new entry — featuring a two-storey high screen that replicates the original external form and pitched roofline of the Victorian terrace — creates a stark contrast between gritty cobblestones and lush garden and pond inside.
‘The bridge over the pond is something on my dream home list. I think it is a beautiful way to enter your home every day,’ says Ray Dinh, associate and architect at AMA. ‘I love the generosity of the greenery to the laneway and view to the fish pond. It is a real hit with the locals on morning school runs and weekend walks.’
By relocating the entry to the side of the property, the home’s circulation has been condensed. Turn right for the living spaces; left for the private bedrooms; or straight up the stairs to the studio/study and main bedroom.
While the core of the house has been removed, AMA found no cracks or structural damage in the solid 1960s rear extension, so they opted to practise the three Rs: ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.’
Founding director of AMA Andrew Maynard explains, ‘Rather than allow our architectural vanity to prevail by tearing down and replacing the (albeit uninspiring) ‘60s built form, and encouraged by the owners to limit the carbon footprint, we thought, why not use the existing brick fabric and work with the skin we’ve got?’
Andrew adds, ‘Too often people attempt to buy their way to a sustainable solution. Solar panels, heat pumps, and greywater systems are purchased as a means to finance an escape from climate catastrophe. All of this tech is important and vital, however, no building can be truly sustainable if a functional structure was demolished in its place. The capitalist reflex, to buy our way out of the problem, simply won’t work.’
In response, the front of the house is similar to the existing arrangement, but the rear has been opened up and reconfigured to suit the brief.
On the first floor, what was previously the living room and kitchen is now the main bedroom with an east-facing terrace, and a study overlooking the lightwell and pond.
The ground floor has been reconfigured to create an open-plan kitchen, living and dining area with an adjacent multipurpose room.
All interior finishes have been updated throughout; a new concrete slab with hydronic heating has been poured in the open-plan living domain; and all existing windows have been replaced with thermally efficient double glazing.
Chin Liew designed the equally-important five green spaces on the property: the rooftop garden (23 square metres); eastern terrace (16 square metres); first floor verandah (14 square metres); ground floor porch (12 square metres); and atrium (12 square metres).
The landscape design uses repeated planting to help flow and tie the spaces together.
‘In the entry we created a few different layers in the space, some plants sitting in the water, some plants going right up to the fence, to help soften the strong lines of the gate,’ Chin says.
Vaan and Hilton were particularly excited by the design of the rooftop garden or ‘urban farm’, featuring an enclosure and chain link that looks ‘suspiciously like a giant version of one of our planter boxes with a chicken wire possum-proof arch over the top.’
‘It was quintessential Australian at one level and practical at another in still keeping out possums. True to AMA form it would bring life and beauty to the heart of a very dull laneway.’ Vaan says.
The rooftop garden is located above the carport at the back of the block, accessible by a cylindrical spiral staircase enclosed in translucent polycarbonate. ‘In among all the mesh and bountiful produce, it has the look of a sci-fi tube elevator,’ says Andrew.
The garden includes a buried 3000 litre water tank that harvests water from the roof for flushing toilets and watering gardens.
A 3kW photovoltaic solar system is installed on the roof, with panels tilted to the east and west to provide power in the early morning and late afternoon.
Architect Ray Dinh says Helvetia (the name of the house given by the original Swiss owners) is one of the most transformative ‘before and after’ projects AMA have ever completed.
Vaan and Hilton say their brief has been fulfilled in ways they could never have imagined, which they are still discovering today.