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    ‘The Mental Health House’: a liveable “experiment” that blends home and office

    Geraldine Chua

    Andrew Maynard has no qualms opening up his home, office and life to the world. For that, we may all be better off.  

    Maynard’s practice, Austin Maynard Architects (AMA), has four projects shortlisted for the 2017 AIA Victorian Architecture Awards; three in the Residential Architecture – Houses (Alterations & Additions) category alone. Most notable among these is a sustainable home-slash-office space titled “My-House (or, the Mental Health House)”.

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    My-House is Maynard’s own residence, albeit one that is shared.  He and his family live above the shophouse in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy North. It is also where his colleagues at AMA work.

    “My-House is an experiment that I live in. It is a home that I dare not impose on my clients,” Maynard jests. “It breaks many important rules, often not in a good way.”

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    For some, the idea of making your home an actual office space may be hard to digest, especially since AMA had already ‘been there and done that’.

    “Like many other architects starting a practice, my home was my office for the first year of AMA. We then upgraded to a shopfront that I lived above. Once the office had momentum, we moved to a large work space in the city,” Maynard explains.

    Unsurprisingly, the move brought with it high costs and a degree of sacrifice.

    “I was away from my family more than I wanted, and the pressure to increase the scale and number of projects quickly built. It was stressful,” says Maynard.

    “It soon dawned on me that we had moved AMA to a big city office by default, rather than asking the big questions of ‘Why?’ and ‘How will this alter the way that we work?’”

    My-House is a response to this revelation. At the same time, it is an evolution of the way that Maynard, his family and the AMA team – and possibly many other home and business owners – work.

    “The way that Australians work is becoming more complex, and where we work is changing rapidly. Many companies are [turning to] ‘hot-desking’ or encouraging employees to work outside the office,” says Maynard. “The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently revealed that one in three Australians now regularly work from home.”

    To accommodate for its new headquarters, AMA added a bright and elaborate greenhouse extension to Maynard’s original terrace. The addition contains a bathroom, kitchen and utility area, all of which lie beneath a platform full of plants.

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    My-House’s kitchen, dining and garden are shared between Maynard’s family and his colleagues during the firm’s working hours of 9am to 5pm

    The first big win of this experiment is the fact that spaces are forced to have multiple functions, even beyond the binary of office and domestic. Merging living and work spaces radically reduces the environmental footprint of AMA and Maynard’s family. Importantly, it also proves that in a country where house sizes are some of the biggest in the world and yet are kept empty during the workday, usage can be maximised with minimum space.

    Then there is the concern that cooping architects up within a smaller footprint may be detrimental to productivity; that it may result in elevated levels of chaos and stress in what is already a very demanding industry environment.

    “Some architects are readily self-destructive [and] not in a fun adventurous way, but in a very boring ‘I’m over-worked, exploited and unfulfilled’ way,” Maynard notes on the AMA website. “As research emerges, it appears working conditions can lead to some significant mental health issues within the profession.”

    My-House’s design sought to counter these issues, some of which Maynard himself was facing:

    “It was the end of winter and I visited my doctor to discuss my increasing levels of anxiety and stress. [While] discussing the complex issues of mental health, my doctor pointed out that he experiences a sharp spike in patients seeking help with mental health issues during the late-winter/early-spring months.”

    While discussing a number of issues related to Maynard’s mental health, the doctor asked him what his house was like.

    “I informed him that it was a typical unrenovated terrace with small windows and internalised living spaces disconnected from the rear yard. We would turn the lights on at 4pm during winter, and some rooms needed artificial lighting even on the brightest summer days,” Maynard writes.

    “My doctor suggested that a common contributing factor to his increase in mental heath patients during late-winter/early-spring may be the lack of access to sunlight and vitamin D. Whilst there were many complex reasons for my declining mental health, I could not argue that access to sunlight was a contributing factor. Further research into vitamin D revealed numerous links with mental health, and significant deficiencies in Australians despite our climate.”

    Maynard decided to renovate his home as part of his “return to mental wellbeing”, and to create the complete antithesis of the original terraces spaces: a greenhouse that lets in more natural light than is usual for such buildings.

    To counter the poor thermal performance of glass, the team specified a clear Thermoclick roof consisting of 2 x 40mm layers with a 140mm air gap. This roof allows sunlight and vitamin D to flood the space, and creates an ideal greenhouse effect, heating the home on colder days when the windows and skylight are closed.

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    In the summer, a skylight high in the ceiling passively vents any excess heat, which travels up the skillion roof and naturally exits without the need for artificial ventilation. Opening up the garden doors also draws in cool air, creating a stack effect that purges hot air. A hydronic heated slab also provides an ideal thermal mass to help stabilise internal temperatures.

    According to AMA, the winter performance of the roof exceeded calculations.

    “[While] it is a very sustainable home, My-House is not as thermally efficient as the homes I design for others. Issues of privacy and personal comfort are often challenged. It is for these reasons that my family and I also love it,” Maynard says.

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    Finally, perhaps the most common question that people think to ask when they see My-House: why the bright shade of yellow?

    “I asked my Instagram followers what colour we should use,” Maynard admits. “And yellow was the absolute winner.”

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