The Berlin House by Blomquist & Wark Architects is nestled beside a sports field, six plane trees and a patch of parkland, fronted by a Western Red Cedar front that sits well with the surrounds whilst managing to peek out with its sensitive yet delightful design.

A two-bedroom, semi-detached unit in Melbourne, the front half of the house was built in the 1880s, with minor modifications and extensions added in the 1980’s and 90’s.

However, the building has recently been reimagined and reinvented, with architects from Blomquist + Wark seeking to create a ‘tree house feel’ for the children bedrooms located on the second floor. According to architect Peter Schreuder, who happens to live in his built creation (his wife’s last name is Berlin), there were also a few visual nods to Alvar Aalto.

But then, as Schreuder says, “every house should have a nod to a master”.

The brief for Berlin House was to provide custom bedrooms and an additional bathroom for the children. Each bedroom was also to have a balcony, thus establishing a direct connection for indoor occupants to the parkland and trees beyond.

At the same time, getting more direct sunlight into the living spaces and new bedrooms was essential. Instead of introducing internal courtyards, the team decided to make the most of the adjacent parkland while maximising internal living spaces.

Both these aims were achieved by the installation of two Velux glass roofs over the kitchen and dining area, and multiple Velux skylights. Allowing natural light in, these skylights and glass roofs create the illusion of more space, extending views that are no longer restricted by the height of windows.

“The glass roofs and skylights have transformed the feel of the house, with all living areas now bathed in natural light and at particular times of the day, direct sunlight,” says Schreuder.

“Orientation and locations of the glass roofs and skylights ensure the majority of the hot afternoon summer sun is kept out, while morning sun penetrates into the living areas and upstairs bathrooms.”

The glass roof and skylights are double-glazed with low e glazing, with the latter featuring motorised block-out blinds for very hot days. Motorised skylights have also been installed at the top of the stair well, and can be opened to encourage air flow through the house.

While these transparent products allow light in, a new roof from Stramit Industries replacing the existing corrugated iron roof keeps light out. However, the new roof, which is Colorbond custom orb 'Monument' to match the colour and profile of the original roof and compliment proposed external colours, does much more than provide a shelter: it also transforms the visual aesthetics of the Berlin House.  

A pitched roof without visible gutters, yet still retaining the traditional pitched roof shape, had been envisioned.

“This required the gutter be ‘hidden’ in the slope of the roof so that the roof would finish with a sharp edge instead of a gutter,” noted Schreuder, who praised builder Humphries and Cookes for being able to translate his designs into something that could be built.

This idea was ultimately realised through the use of custom brackets installed at 1m intervals, and which were later clad with Colorbond metal lining to the top and soffit.

The special flashings and gutters were provided by AW&F Sheetmetal.

What has resulted is a clean geometric shape with a sharp edge, allowing the roof to float above the walls and equip the building with a lightness of touch.

Along the south side, a secondary roof has been installed at minimum pitch to make the bedrooms feel more private.

This lower roof integrates a hidden custom gutter to the edge, which runs the length of the south side like a pinstripe, and morphs into slats at the east and west ends above the balconies.

Internally, the shape of the roofs is visibly expressed, although the structure has required the upper floor to be constructed around a steel frame. The chimney was furthermore reconfigured and extended to accommodate a fan-assisted Heat & Glow fireplace.

A number of other construction challenges emerged during the design and construction phases. The existing frame to the original single storey residence had to be extended and reinforced with additional steel, spanning almost the full width of the site in the living areas and supporting the new upper level, while integrating the large glass roofs.

The new U-shaped stair, which is not quite finished and still needs a timber tread to be installed, was another challenge as it was designed to float and twist as it winds its way up to the bedrooms.

But the Berlin House reveals no trace of these difficulties, standing quietly confident within the landscape. A place to call home, its transparent roofs let the light into living areas but keep its occupants protected from the elements; the roof hides a complex design beneath a simple facade, but enhances the design of the building so that it stays true to its context.

Images courtesy of Blomquist + Wark