Martin Southwood’s house in Fitzroy North has a city skyline view to die for. Up on level one, with the site’s excellent subtle loft above the streetscape on full display, you feel as if you could reach over and tap the captains of industry on the shoulder.
While you get spectacle and scale here, it’s largely an external thing. What matters about this place is its soul, and the philosophical approach of owner and architect that enabled it to develop organically.
With a cypress pine facade, two picture windows punching through the exterior to eye the street and a raised garden bed, there are features that both gel with and rebel against the surrounding built environment.
In this part of town, period streetscapes are the norm, so to see a horizontal blank-timber-plank facade certainly resonates. The shape, however, echoes the single-fronted cottage aesthetic.
The house is a response to excess. ”I wanted something simple. Something old school,” Mr Southwood says. ”It’s modest and sustainable and everything has a function.”
With increasing pressure on the environment, Mr Southwood and his family didn’t want their footprint to become a resounding stomp upon the landscape, but they still wanted to live well.
The house, then, is something of a template for sustainable living. Its triple-glazed windows, solar panels, water tanks and recycled materials are nothing new, but the application of green theory here is.
There’s a boldness that impresses, a paring back that reveals a hitherto unseen elegance. You can see the bones of the house, its skin, its sinew – everything is on show.
A traditional front entry and central hallway are eschewed for side access that allows the front floor plan more space for the two bedrooms that face the street.
The side entry allows you to follow the gentle contour to the door and then into what some might say looks like the inside of a packing crate. This is not a criticism. The house is a challenge, its blank nature a sustained theme that encourages thought about modern-day living and its attendant leaning to excess.
The central downstairs space is clad in bracing ply from floor to ceiling. The concrete slab underfoot is not so much polished gloss, more ”garage floor”, as Mr Southwood calls it.
The two bedrooms facing north to the street have oversize fixed windows, but an ingenious, narrow strip of timber to the side can be opened to reveal a screened louvre to allow air circulation.
Touches such as this reveal a lot about the quality of this house. From that central living area on the ground floor you can look up and see a beautiful little swirl of timber right at the apex of the stairs, a detail that softens the straight lines and raw brick and timber surfaces.
Architect Riccardo Zen says he was inspired by a brief that called for less rather than more. ”It’s something we’ve been advocating for a long time,” he says. ”You don’t necessarily need so many things, so many rooms in a new house. Our focus is to ask the question, ‘how do you live?’ With Martin’s family it was a case of wanting a simple house, but something like this is also a big vision.”
That big vision might not be inherently available on first glance but as the house unfolds, so does its level of sophistication. Ideas here revolve around containment and utility rather than fixtures and fittings.
There are no built-in wardrobes in the bedrooms so the spaces can be adapted easily to different purposes. Rooms have one light and one power point only. Waste heat from the hot water unit augments the house’s heating.
Upstairs, the floor plan essentially accommodates kitchen, dining and family, but in a space that would, in some modern builds, cover just one of those applications. It’s by no means cheap on area, though. A peaked roof draws light and air down and in; the north-facing deck opens the house to the surrounding environment, community and to the south-west and those stunning city views.
Six people live here – Mr Southwood, his wife Catherine and their four children. All reports are that it works like a dream.
”This house is like a high-performance racing car,” the architect says. ”It mightn’t exactly look like it, but that’s what it is.”
Designing a small, responsible house requires real skill, smarts and commitment. It’s not as easy or as simple as it looks but, when it works, it’s an instructive joy for all.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.