Even as prices rise and floorplans shrink, the rapid densification of our inner-urban areas proves that a large percentage of the population would still prefer to live closer to amenities than to move out of the city.
In this context of changing expectations, increasing pressure is placed on architects to provide an antidote to the ubiquity of rushed mass development, and to prove that smaller spaces – if enough thought is given – can provide similar levels of amenity and liveability as the sprawling floorplans of previous decades.
Smart Home by Green Sheep Collective is a perfect example of how this can be done. The 2017 Sustainability Awards finalist within the Single Dwelling – Alteration or Addition category consists of a renovation and extension to a two-bedroom, single-fronted Victorian cottage in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Seddon. The architects employed a mixture of passive design principles and thoughtfully irregular configurations to create a home where almost every space has two functions.
“[It is a] small, smart result,” says the architect. “More space, however environmentally designed and constructed, still creates environmental impact. Thrive Research has shown that every 12-square-metre room built in Australia creates the equivalent of 80 kilometres worth of car exhaust emissions, consumes 90 years’ worth of drinking water for four [people], and costs $24,000 in construction and electricity bills over its lifetime.
“Through carefully assessing the need for every square metre of home (and utilising a mezzanine instead of a second [storey]) we added 20 percent more usable indoor space to [our client’s] existing home with only 13 square metres of additional footprint.”
Best-practice sustainability outcomes were at the heart of Green Sheep Collective’s design concept for Smart Home – something made easier by the fact that the client was on-board from the beginning, requesting thermal comfort and efficiency as part of the architectural brief.
To achieve this, the architects needed to design their way around a number of constraints. In particular, the original build was the victim of overshadowing, poor orientation and the existence of a small, 7.5-metre-wide, east-west block that was built close to the boundary. This meant that the existing home was not only dark and disconnected from its rear lean-to structure, it was also poorly insulated.
In order to create a “whole-home” solution, Green Sheep Collective decided to demolish the lean-to and start again with a harder-working rear addition. This new structure integrates with the existing Victorian cottage while improving the thermal efficiency of the home as a whole.
A second, important step was to talk the client out of a second-storey addition and into a more sustainable and budget-friendly alternative: a mezzanine. Located over the pantry and ‘study nook’, the mezzanine level utilises the volumes that have been created by the lofty cathedral ceiling. This space is filled with natural light and a perception of space thanks to openable skylights that act as ‘thermal chimneys’, assisting natural ventilation processes in summer. A staircase has been integrated into this space to accommodate mezzanine access, additionally servicing the home’s bookshelf.
“Our clients were unaware of the environmental, spatial and fiscal costs of ‘going up’,” says the architect. “The additional space required for the second storey to house the staircase and associated circulation spaces; the ‘hidden’ costs of labour, scaffolding, insurances, material, engineering, and design to accommodate overlooking legislation; heating, cooling, cleaning and maintenance requirements; and so on.
“Our response creates interesting volumes for architectural beauty, and minimises idle space by ensuring the floorplan is utilised to its full capacity through clever storage solutions and split-level living. The single-storey addition includes open-plan living, dining and kitchen [openings] via large, openable glazed doors to an outdoor deck.
“Smart storage combines with beautiful material selections, natural light and exciting form to transform the cottage into a high-performance, healthy, and comfortable modern residence.”