When Panovscott architects undertook the extension of a Federation-era Sydney cottage, they knew they weren’t solely designing for the client-occupants. Rather, they were working for the 116-year-old Jacaranda tree that stood on the site.
Fascinated by the effect of time on buildings, Anita Panov and Andrew Scott wanted to evolve rather than transform the existing space. To do so, they took an approach that focused on how the between areas could be transformational. By inserting a new structure between the two existing cottage structures, they avoided an overhaul of the time-collected character of the home. The result was what they called “a hybridisation of […] references”.
The main, 1917-built cottage is “a robust brick structure” with “elegant turn-of-the-century proportions and ornamentation” that sits on the main street frontage. The second extant place, older than the first, is a “diaphanous room” to the rear of the cottage, whose character is derived from the canopy of the Jacaranda that is cantilevered toward and over it. This latter space changes dramatically with the seasons – “dense” with shadow in summer and tinted with purple light in the winter.
The new third space is inserted between these two structures, offering an alternative to the two established characters of the existing spaces. The brief from the client was for the creation of a space that facilitated a closer connection to the outdoors. Despite having ample space to work with, the architects retained a minimal floorplan for the new build, so that the Jacaranda and courtyard would not be crowded. The new insertion is both “outward-looking” and “inward-looking”, according to the architects, with a “blurred threshold between inside and out”.
From the architect:
This project is for the transformation of a place via the insertion of a new structure between two that already exist. The first being a federation-era four-room cottage, whilst the second is an astoundingly sculptural jacaranda tree, which predates the cottage. In undertaking such a project, we were able to continue our interest in the effect of time on buildings. That sense in which structures might exist into the future, being the manner in which they appreciate character with age, along with the manner in which structures have come through time to the present. In both directions accumulating meaning via the nature of their construction and decay, and the events they contain. This working between, of time, and more immediately the cottage and the tree, enabled us to establish an architecture that is a hybridisation of those references. Whilst each extant place displays a markedly different character, they both define space in the most beautiful manner.
The cottage is a robust brick structure located on the principal street frontage with elegant turn of the century proportions and ornamentation. It is part of a distinct building tradition. Windows and doors are small but intricately crafted. The second extant place, older than the first, is the diaphanous room loosely defined by the outstretched canopy of a magnificent Jacaranda mimosifolia, with branches cantilevering almost horizontally up to 12 metres in length. This great room changes so dramatically with the seasons - dense with moving shadow in summer, that boundary dissolving to become almost non-existent in winter, and then later in the year tinting the light purple with flower.
The new form is distinct in character. It offers a third alternative. Though not a blurred threshold between inside and out, instead the transformation is a collation of elements evocative of those existing. Our clients asked us to make a house that would allow them a more proximate connection to the environment. A manner of habitation in which the experience of their gardens, of the street and lane, of the passing of seasons and the time of day, would be an intrinsic part of their experience. In that sense the house is outward looking, able to be tuned to prevailing characteristics. But then our clients also wanted the house to be inward looking, to be complex and rich enough for them to live a fulfilling life within its enclosure. In discussions with them at the completion of the project we determined the house now has a kind of frugality that is juxtaposed with moments of wilful generosity. It occurred to us that this kind of house could have only been built for people who knew how to live because they had been doing it for quite some time. There is one bathroom, shared between them and their guests. The main bedroom contains only a bed, now augmented with the luxury of an adjacent robe. Despite the generous size of the land, the house remains relatively small, allowing the garden and the great Jacaranda to hold court. The windows that allow such divergent interactions with the context are huge in scale, generally greater in size than a person in the principal dimension. In the great room the space rises vertically via a void in the level above, expanding to the sky, but then also horizontally, allowing the experience of the full width of the land. In doing so the trim vertical proportions of the existing cottage transform across the site, from front to back, into the low-slung horizontals of the rear façade, as it reaches to hold the space around the canopy of the tree.
Located in an inner-western suburb of Sydney, the subdivision, from 1907, has resulted in a series of generous rectangular land holdings of about 500sqm in size. Historical documents show that the house was established within 3 years, one of 7 freestanding federation era cottages built from the same pattern. Prior to the subdivision, the land was part of the Gelding Brothers Victorian Nursery. The previous owners of the house, who had held the property for 90 years, have passed down to our clients the history of the great Jacaranda, which dates from the time of the nursery and was planted in 1901. Just beyond the ring of terrace suburbs that arc around the western edge of Sydney’s central business district, the subdivision contains predominantly freestanding single-family dwellings, which have been minimally altered since establishment. Traditionally, the demographic was of middle-class western European and English descent. These inhabitants established street tree planting early in the piece and so the area has a pleasant public character, especially when combined with the generally low density and generous separation between dwellings. Large areas of the suburb are considered of heritage significance and so [are] protected.
The transformation necessitated the demolition of part of the existing house. The majority of the house was retained, being the 4-room cottage under the principal roof form. The rear skillion containing kitchen and bathroom was dismantled. It was a lime mortar brick structure with a timber framed floor and roof. We retained the bricks on site and cleaned them for reuse in the new courtyard wall and for the future carport [and] barbecue structure. We retained the pine floorboards and augmented them for reuse in the extension of the existing hall finish into the addition. The ground floor of the cottage, level with the garden at the street frontage, is elevated at the rear due to a slight fall in the land. Between that level and the ground of the large garden we made a foundation for the addition. A zone of about 600mm in height above the lower floor level, in concrete which was burnished during the finishing to make a hard, smooth surface with a colour darker than the natural state of the material. Above the foundation, the new construction is timber framed using H3 treated plantation studwork and laminated veneer lumber beams. Despite the open nature of the spaces within, the structure has been carefully designed to have limited span lengths. In some areas, the hard-working level beams are quite large. We use this manner of timber construction often, as the material is plentiful and cost-effective, being made from small pieces of fast-growing plantation timber, and manufactured locally. Lateral stability is generally enabled via sections of plywood braced stud framing though two small steel brace columns are utilised in the more open rear façade. The external character of the transformation is defined by two materials, that of Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata), and glass. The gum is a durable and hard timber that is endemic to Sydney.