Preserving old structures and merely adding on to them may well be cost conscious and site conservative, but is somehow always considered boring – here an award winning project admirably demonstrates it need not be so at all!
In the Sydney-fringe suburb of Glebe, a late 19th century cowshed is reworked upon by Carterwilliamson Architects in a poetic marriage of old and new. Located on a small parcel of land, skirted on three sides by roads, this brick-based building is a perfect celebration of restrained and rustically simple architecture that speaks volumes for itself. Principal architect, Shaun Carter shares, “The opportunity to remake a house on a corner site is rare in older urban areas. It seemed like the perfect site and along with that came clients with a wonderful spirit and desire to push conventional boundaries.”
Although the building came with council approved plans for substantial renovation, the owners were in love with the property’s existing modest footprint. They felt it was more or less ‘spot-on’ in terms of site usage and orientation and wanted to preserve the integrity of the unusual dwelling while making it more habitable and better suited to their growing family. The clients loved the sense of protection and privacy that was supplied by the walled boundary and the charm of suntraps in certain rooms.
The client’s brief although based on tight budgets, was well adhered to. “The spaces are truly open plan, each room is connected to the other and to the sunny, green courtyard that acts as a natural extension of the living spaces,” shares Shaun.
A larger entry was introduced at street level, featuring a pivoting red painted timber door that opened into the main courtyard. The southern wing was widened by three to four metres to better accommodate the living, dining and kitchen at the ground level with the bedroom mezzanine capping the kitchen above.
The more private eastern wing, housed two bedrooms, study and the bathrooms. The bathroom continued on a red and white scheme while LED lights helped curb energy use. The kids’ bedroom replete with requisite hammocks was tucked into the return of the ‘L’ shaped plan, with a vivid red bathroom at the fulcrum which gave a due nod to the clients’ proud Venezuelan heritage.
“It is the honesty of the materials used throughout that provides much of the inherent decoration,” explains Shaun.
“Build it once and only once,” he says, meaning the structural envelope should ideally not be clad or dressed in any way. Wherever possible the existing building fabric of the original shed was preserved making it take its first steps in the right direction towards green architecture.
Whatever was rebuilt carries the spirit of the cowshed composed from a palette of simple and robust materials. The concrete slabs on the floor, polished and left unclad not only rendered a perfect synergy of beauty, sustainability and economy but also resulted in a durable and low maintenance floor. Made of sustainable materials itself, the concrete floor acted as a thermal sink, regulating temperatures indoors. Retaining the long brick wall, helped provide acoustic and thermal comfort.
Using recycled bricks wherever required provided a finish to the interiors and also helped maintain the quality of air inside as it eliminated the use of paints and other toxic finishes while also preventing a food source for moulds.
Generously scaled Windoor Western red cedar-framed awning windows, sliding and pivoting door systems helped introduce a better connect between the interior and the exterior spaces. They also provided for yet another simple yet sustainable fix to the green context of the architecture worked upon. Fabricated from sustainable timber, the windows not only open out on a clear conscious as they are sourced from a ‘sustainable forest’, but also nurture nature by preventing ecological damage.
The cowshed sat under a huge jacaranda tree whose leaves and blooms blocked gutters and flooded the house inside during rains. In response, an undulating metallic roofline was laid over the brick perimeter of walls in a serpentine-like gesture that took care of the problem and also encapsulated the adventurous vision of the project.
A ribbon of high clerestory windows capture light and breeze as they wrap up the building and rise with the roofline allowing the home to feel bright but private, despite its dense urban context. The shed complete with a worn patina of stories is well situated and hugs the southern boundaries with provision for a private, north facing courtyard.
Matilda grass used as turf for courtyards, proved to be another green initiative adopted by the architectural team. Its softness, wear tolerant and disease resistant qualities made it a perfect child friendly option for the family to use. Hints of the Australian vernacular are kept alive as the old and the new comingle to define a new architectural language.
Text By Kanupriya Pachisia
Photographs Courtesy Carterwilliamson Architects