The design focus for this artist studio in Northcote was the pursuit of a visual economy through the retention and abstraction of historic references, while providing a creative space to showcase the artist at work.

The owner’s brief was simple – demolish the existing dilapidated studio and build a new contemporary studio on the same footprint. A simple programme was adopted to interconnect the work and break-out space, while maintaining a fluid division between the studio and the facing cobble-stoned courtyard.

Abutting five adjoining neighbours, it was imperative that we respect their amenity. Despite the construction of the studio to all three rear and side boundaries there were no objections and council fully supported the scheme. 

The masonry wall to the rear boundary is the remnant of an original nineteenth-century Cobb & Co stables. 

Retained and repurposed, these rough-hewn, rustic walls were used as the backdrop for an industrial palette of steel, glass and concrete. The studios façade, almost completely transparent, animated the intervening courtyard by revealing the artist’s works within. 

The stable walls are also visible through the façade and the industrial language is reinforced by a new sawtooth roof with south-facing clerestory windows – an age-old solution that provides natural light and ventilation to the artist’s space. 

The north-oriented roofing is wired for solar panels which will deliver a more than adequate power supply to the studio.

The clerestory windows adjoin an upper level deck, making curious and surprising connections between these adroitly simple spatial arrangements. 

The two-storeyed break-out space with sleeping quarters above elevates you into the courtyard’s expansive trees and provides an illusion of escape in nature, experienced through a panoramic steel framed cruciform window, unusual for the inner city. 

Retaining the stable walls was challenging. Aside from being a desirable architectural motif and a non-negotiable for the neighbours – they were unsafe. The structural engineer designed a steel bracing system to support the walls while the slab was excavated and poured.

The cleverly sized members were later recycled into the project. Steel posts used to embed the bracing into the ground were cut off at slab level and can be seen in the polished concrete floor – a reminder of the story of the site. 

The cost of the project was what most in the profession would describe as ‘entry level’ as for a custom build, but it satisfied the dual parameters of the client’s budget and delivery of a product uplifting to an artist’s sensibilities.

The studio is almost invisible from the street. There is no grandiose public statement here. From within the site however, this intervention creates a beautiful and almost transparent backdrop to the main residence and courtyard – like a gleaming glass box in the landscape. 

Although the space is subservient in function to the main dwelling, the owners find themselves inextricably drawn to it, occupying it much more than thy anticipated. They dine there most nights and even sleep out, elevated as they amongst the trees, in preference to their own bedroom.