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    The importance of building small where space is available: D + L House by Dunn & Hillam Architects

    Kurnell, Sydney NSW

    It’s not too often you hear an architecture practice say that a house it has designed is simply ordinary. Dunn + Hillam Architects, however, the masterminds behind award-winning projects like the Desert House and Dogtrot House, are not afraid to describe their new project, D + L House, as “normal…[and] appropriate. That’s all”.

    Engaged to raise and rebuild the upper storey of an existing weatherboard house while creating better connections between home and garden, Dunn + Hillam note that one of their first moves was to advocate for compact and efficient living in the alterations and additions project, even though space was available for greater expansion.

    “This is a house for a family. They have stuff. They have swimming lessons, piano, tennis, soccer. Mum and Dad both work. There’s a lot going on. The demands on this house are high,” the design team acknowledges. But instead of building bigger, which would use more resources during the construction stage as well as in the day-to-day running costs of the completed house, the imperative was to work each space harder.

    DunnHillam_BotanyHouse_002188.jpg“We strongly advocate to our clients that a key principle of sustainable design is size. A bigger house uses more resources to build but also to light, to heat, to clean and to maintain,” Dunn + Hillam explains 

    With the clients confidently on their side, the architects renovated the old interwar period house into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a home office. The first floor addition contains the bedrooms and study spaces for the children, while a new entry foyer – the bridge – links the old and new, and provides ample space for the dumping of everything from school bags to tennis rackets. 

    DunnHillam_BotanyHouse_002579-1.jpgDunnHillam_BotanyHouse_002323.jpg

    While most rear additions in residential projects are designed to be open plan, the updated D + L House contains spaces that are interconnected but still highly articulated, with the relationships between each area sophisticated and specific. Each space is designed to be flexible and versatile, and gets its feeling of spaciousness from visual cues and tricks, rather than actual bulk space. 

    DunnHillam_BotanyHouse_000004.jpg“The new spaces have a highly controlled complexity,” the architects say

    In increasing the head height of the first floor and linking the home and garden with the rear addition, the team also had the opportunity to increase the amount of northern light and natural cross ventilation coming in to both levels of the residence. However, they faced concerns that in a part of Sydney where land value is high and many neighbouring homes have become bloated, the choices of surrounding occupants would detrimentally affect the lives of their clients.

    As a result, the house is designed to grasp its north light from (almost) the centre of the site rather than the building’s northern boundary. On the exterior, a high north-facing clerestory style window appears continuous but actually filters light coming in to four different spaces. Hot air is furthermore vented out from windows in all levels of the addition. 

    DunnHillam_BotanyHouse_002303.jpg

    The ESD solutions and strategies applied to D + L House are no different from the sustainability principles Dunn + Hillam abides by for every project. This includes keeping buildings small and retaining as much of existing structures as possible, as well as using good, passive design to resolve issues to do with energy use, amenity and comfort in homes.

    “We always design out the need for mechanical systems. We insulate, ventilate and control the sun for heat and light,” they explain.  

    Material palettes are also kept simple and recyclable, which means renewable timer is used in place of steel, and composite materials are avoided where possible. Finishes are only applied where absolutely necessary for the longevity of the material, which should weather well and remain stable in the long term.

    These sustainability axioms translate to the use of products that have low embodied energy, low VOC levels and sustainable production methods in the D + L House. In addition, rainwater is harvested and used in the laundry, toilets and for the garden, while the heavily insulated house is heated and cooled entirely passively. 

    DunnHillam_BotanyHouse_002480.jpg

    When asked whether they faced any challenges balancing budget and design, the architects responded wisely:

    “The brief was simple but not easy, and the budget was tight but enough to build beautifully. All decisions when designing a building have an effect on cost. The best way to control cost is to agree on the value of each element of the brief and design. The building is then designed to these values and not to a preconceived idea of size or outcome. Any discussion about cost is therefore inseparable from value.”

    By dictating its own terms, D + L House is a success precisely because it is “appropriate” –though an exemplary example of what should be appropriate – both in terms of its sustainability achievements, and by showcasing what a fit-for-purpose home really looks like.

    “This house is well built, with thoughtful resource and material choices. It is planned to be flexible for use by people over time. It is not larger than is necessary. It is in every way an example of how it is possible to build and live with less impact on the environment,” Dunn + Hillam adds.

    “It is a ‘house for life’.” 

    PRODUCTS

    ROOFING

    BLUESCOPE LYSAGHT, COLORBOND ULTRA STEEL IN WINDSPRAY

    EXTERNAL WALLS, FACADES

    RADIAL TIMBER SALES, 100MM VICTORIAN ASH V-JOINT SHIP LAP FINISHED WITH
    CABOTS, WATER BASED EXTERIOR STAIN IN BEACH HOUSE GREY

    WINDOWS & DOORS

    AWS VANTAGE, ALUMINIUM WINDOW SETS
    SULLIVAN JOINERY, TIMBER WINDOWS AND FRONT DOOR

    LIGHTS

    MUD AUSTRALIA, KITCHEN PENDENTS DOME LIGHTS
    INLITE, PLATFORM LED LIGHTS

    HARDWARE

    MADINOZ, URBAN LEVERSETS
    BRIO, SLIDING DOOR HARDWARE + FLUSH BOLTS

    FLOORING & FLOORING FINISHES

    SPOTTED GUM FLOOR BOARDS WITH SYNTEKO NATURAL FLOOR OIL

    Key Info

    Architect: Dunn + Hillam
    Project architect: Linden Thorley
    Structural engineer: Cantilever Engineers
    Builder: Life Structures
    Completed: 2015
    Words: Geraldine Chua
    Photography: Brett Boardman

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