‘Ask and you shall receive’ – this old adage is keenly manifested in the Bricolage House by Breathe Architecture, which won the Single Dwelling (Alterations & Additions) prize at the 2013 BPN Sustainability Awards.

The owners of the house had requested for colour, the use of recycled doors and a sustainable home. These were granted by the architects.  

As a result, Bricolage House is playful, robust and engaging, filled with images, materials and a character closely connected to its Brunswick, Victoria location.

Based on the clients’ love of old doors, recycled doors were incorporated into the design to create interior features. Furthermore, a 2 Star Victorian rating was elevated to 6 Stars after the alterations and extensions.


On the sustainability front, the key difficulty faced was the existing terrace house itself, which was of Victorian-era timber construction.

“Physical and financial challenges eventuated as we attempted to bring the building in line with current sustainable practice by retro-fitting with 21st century insulation and linings,” noted Jeremy McLeod, principal architect at Breath Architecture.

“The property also has a heritage overlay, and as a result there were limitations to the scope and type of work permitted.”

However, a tight budget actually contributed to the project’s sustainable approach, which in turn helped to reduce building costs. The budget also convinced the client to keep the alteration size small, and to focus on building an efficient and compact envelope.

The other key ESD principles of passive solar design and passive ventilation were also critical to the initial planning and design of the building’s form and function.

The house was redesigned to open up to the north garden, with the double glazed sliding door to the dining room allowing winter sun to stream in, and excluding summer sun.

Ventilation of the building is augmented by a literal thermal chimney positioned above the stairwell, with operable panels at its apex. Insulation is achieved by two layers of bulk polyster batts insulation around the entire envelope, and a 25mm foilboard.

At the same time, spotted gum ventilated cladding wraps around the exterior of the building’s new section. Timber tiles, constructed of recycled ‘offcuts’ of varying lengths, act as a ventilated rain-screen shading the built fabric.

The sum of these passive solar designs has meant that no air conditioning is required in Bricolage House. A 5,000 litre rainwater tank collects and pumps water to the toilets, washing machine and garden, boosting the site’s water efficiency.

At the heart of the project’s sustainability approach was ensuring that the design stayed true to the occupants it was purposed for. Hence, where possible, materials, fixtures and fittings were salvaged and reused from the demolition.

Existing elements were implemented in their existing form for similar purposes, such as the old doors which have been reinstalled, or repurposed without alteration for new functions.

Many existing products were also altered and employed using adaptive reuse, including the ceiling joists which were reclaimed from demolition to form the new bench-top in the current house.

Strategic and considered, Breathe Architecture endeavoured to retain as much of the house’s existing structure as possible. Throughout the demolition works, structure and materials were kept with the intent of reuse in the eventual build.

This careful consideration of the old is highlighted and celebrated when contrasted with the new alteration, creating an interesting dichotomy; a ‘bricolage’ of the old and recycled and the new.

“An extensive, inventive and thoughtful reuse of nearby buildings has been skilfully integrated into the interior composition of the house,” said the judges on the project.

“There is an effective balance of new, raw materials and old materials complete with varying finishes. Reclaimed materials were not made to fit in, but used as they were.”

Photography by Andrew Wuttke