The thin allotment typical of Melbourne's northern suburbs provided the constraints to solar access. This inspired unorthodox ideas and turned a challenge into opportunity. The north facing site had relegated the backyard - the family's primary outdoor space - to shadow throughout the year. An earlier two storey extension had reduced solar access even further while creating deep, dark spaces within the house. The family wished to create a long-term home, which would meet the requirements of three small children as they grow up.
The proposal was to build a new structure on the rear boundary, the southern edge of the block, in what had been the back yard. The new structure faces the original house and the sun, employing passive solar gain. The backyard is now the centre of the house activated by the built form around it. The old house is converted into 'the kids' house'. The rear of the simple masonry structure, though spatially connected, is not reoriented. It is left honest and robust.
The new main entry to the home is via the side lane from Stanley Street. The original house, now private dormitory spaces, no longer has a typical relationship to the Thomson Street's 'front' door. The original house, as with most narrow blocks throughout Melbourne, demanded that visitors walked a long corridor past bedrooms to the living area. Stolen quick glances into dark private spaces will occur along the journey. At the Hill House, the entry is reorientated. The kitchen, the hub of the house, is the new greeting point, with the park beyond. Adjacent to it is the living space, the yard and the 'kids' house' beyond.
Following the decision to build at the rear of the block a ubiquitous modern box was first imagined, followed by the opportunity to activate the new, sunny facade. And thus, the hill house emerged.
The building form was conceived as a response to non-landscape; Melbourne being predominantly flat, with no landscape to confine creativity, the building was considered 'free to become landscape'. The cantilevered form acts pragmatically as the passive solar eave to the outdoor space below, cutting out summer sun, while letting winter sun in.
Windows were set above head height to avoid overlooking the neighbours and give an internal impression that the house is enveloped in trees.
Steel provides a solution for the architectural form and is the primary material within the small palette applied. The black monolith is a continuous, full height steel truss which cantilevers more than it is grounded in the hill. The central truss is celebrated in the living space. The entire load of the second storey travels down the deliberately fragile tri-post in the dining area. The concealed steel posts beside the kitchen counter intuitively tie it down, stopping it from falling forward rather than taking downward loads.
The roofing is white Colorbond to reduce thermal load. The kitchen benches are steel, used deliberately as it is both robust and slowly revealing a beautiful patina of age.
The hood around the hill opening is a slender, strong steel plate 'clinically inserted'. The door here pivots so that it appears to defy gravity. The stair, the doors and the windows are also all steel.
To avoid any 'aestheticising' of the project's sustainable credentials, the strategy was to get the house in the backyard to face the sun and to get passive solar performing optimally. All windows are double glazed and LowE coated. Low VOC plywood and farmed class one spotted gum line the internal walls of the building.
The yard is water efficient and synthetic grass has been strategically placed along with dense areas of planting, resulting in little demand for water.
Long strips of windows to the east and west have been equipped with operable louvres. The north-facing facade consists of an entire wall of the same mechanically-operated louvres, providing the option of controlling cross-winds and sunlight. The grass on the hill envelops the ground floor in an additional layer of insulation which was installed to supplement the existing insulation of the building structure beneath whilst also protecting the roof membrane.
Viridian Vision Award - Overall Winner 2012
RAIA (Vic) Architecture Awards, Residential Architecture Alterations & Additions Winner 2012
SHADEFACTOR OPERABLE ALUMINIUM BLADE LOUVRES
PRE-FINISHED MELAMINE BOARD
BLUESCOPE LYSAGHT, KLIPLOCK COLORBOND WHITE FINISH
EDWARDSTOWN CARPETS, WOOL CARPETS