house no. 7


This project is for a typical detached dwelling in the inner suburb of Balwyn. The project engages with issues of extended family dwelling, spatial flexibility, affordability, low-grade densification and sustainability.

Instead of a typical transition to home ownership, we took the somewhat unusual step of approaching my parents-in-law with idea of sub-dividing their property to then build a new house in their backyard. Located in Balwyn, their property had the advantage of a being corner block of sufficient size to allow the new house to have its own street frontage without disturbing the original house.

 My wife and I have two young children and this scenario provided an opportunity to rethink the conventions of nuclear family living and find ways to balance the mutual conveniences inherent in this living arrangement. Several questions emerged in the course of contemplating a project for a new residence. How might the house both mediate and foster cross-generational living? How might the house accommodate different stages of life for an extended family? How would relationship thresholds between family members be delineated in this circumstance?

Extending from strategies developed in earlier projects (such as Scapehouse, Periscope and the Platform For Pleasure Exhibition submission), the project aimed to reduce building size by condensing and grouping the requirements for contemporary living – with all the associated functional and sustainability benefits that come with using space more efficiently. This was also driven by a pragmatic concern to reduce cost. The floor area of the house was notionally limited to 120m² - less than half the average Australian new home.     

The house is designed as a set of three interlocking pavilions. They are joined at ground level by a covered deck area, so that in moving between the different areas of the house one goes outside to go inside again. The figure of the plan twists by 9 degrees to orient precisely to north. The front pavilion contains the kitchen/dining area, the rear pavilion is the living room, and the two story middle pavilion contains 3 bedrooms, a study, ensuite and bathroom. To the west of the bedrooms is an external services zone.

While the building can be described in conventional terms – kitchen, study, living room, etc. – the project is conceived as suite of overlapping spatial and functional conditions that resist clear definition. This ambiguity expands beyond strategies for programmatic arrangement, to pose questions of form, space and material. A sense of spatial hybridization and the provisional is intrinsic to the experience of the house. The front elevation is inscrutable – there is no front door – one passes through a narrow gap between the pavilions onto the deck before entering a choice of three back doors. In this way the central courtyard is a type of outdoor room or entry foyer to the house. A suite of diagrams define and locate this area and similar contested spaces of the house through portmanteaus such as frack door (front and back), rumpidor (rumpus room and corridor) and stentry (study and entry).

The courtyard mediates between the pavilions of the house and also with the living areas of the parents-in-laws home. There is no fence between the properties, but there are also no windows oriented towards the old home. So we and the grandparents are able to engage in a collective observation of the kids playing in the backyard, while my wife and I can maintain the illusion that we have indeed left home and that we are not still living with our parents. In this way, the house is designed to oscillate between a communal sense of the extended family and a more quiet aspect of individual solitude. The master bedroom forms one boundary of the central courtyard, but it is also effectively split from the body of the house with its own entrance. This means it can operate independently as a home office or granny flat and with its own dedicated courtyard to the south, provide a degree of privacy for the occupants. To support this notion of future proofing the space has a network hub, power and data for 5 workstations and is serviced for the installation of a kitchenette.

Upstairs, the circulation corridor servicing the kid’s bedrooms is networked and can operate as a study nook or play space. This corridor forms a bridge that links the front and rear pavilions. To move between these pavilions without going outside onto the covered deck, one needs to traverse this link. It is connected to the space below by a two storey void that contains a library that bridges between the kids toys and books above and the adults volumes below.      


Project Team: Andrew Simpson, Chern Foong Wong
Completed: 2011
Builder: Construction 32
Photography:  Christine Francis, ASA, Chern Foon Wong


photos | drawings | model