australian vernacular architecture

From the architect:

Glorified in architecture forever, the humble tiger prawn becomes a two-pronged deity for this Fitzroy North renovation. The existing double storey Victorian terrace's zig-zag (almost scalloping) brown and gold brick façade was translated and embellished to form the scalloped extension to the rear, whimsically drawing a fortified silhouette in the sky.


This job had a unique beginning. In 2014, WOWOWA produced a series of renovation tip YouTube videos celebrating some of Melbourne’s Featurist houses Robin Boyd famously identified in The Australian Ugliness. Often, colloquial vernacular nicknames were given to distinct housing styles; early Victorian pattern brick façades as seen in this project were referred to as “Tiger Prawn”. These clients came to WOWOWA proclaiming they have a Tiger Prawn house and were eager to honour the glory of their Victorian terrace frontage with a new addition out back. 

Another key feature of the distinct Fitzroy North site was the carpark and laneway adjoining the back of the property. The back was publicly visible, so from the outset WOWOWA treated the back not only as a back but also a front. This was reminiscent of ‘Janus’ the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, time and duality - depicted with two faces, so he could look to the future and to the past. WOWOWA thought this duality of past and present, front and back was an excellent driver for a narrative rich project.


A god with two faces. The brief called for a mirroring of the robustness, craft and ornament of the front in the back. This mirroring of Janus’ faces started in plan – quite simply by mirroring the terrace frontage to the back, setting up a similar duality. From there, the form was eroded to allowing for maximum light, flexibility and amenity into the densely programmed spaces.

A commitment to the tiger prawn thematic ran deep. The crustacean’s shell inspired the fluted geometry but also the colour scheme – the grey and green hues of the raw prawn favoured by one of the clients. Furthering the sea vibe is the pearl earring ball light on the brick, cuttlefish bone ribbed pendants and upstairs screening shadow play (likened to the little scampering prawn legs) that dances over the highly decorative concrete floors, which tie together the semi-compartmentalised kitchen living and dining areas of the downstairs. The Dichondra hanging from the balconies dances in the wind like seaweed floating. 


The back façade dramatically turns the corner a metre off the boundary, allowing it to also dance along the northern edge. As well as providing a handsome vista for the neighbours, it allows for large north facing windows that facilitate an impressive amount of borrowed landscape for such a tight 5m-wide site. The fire regulated setback windows dually create substantial storage below and a high-level pocket garden.

australian vernacular home

Like all Victorian terraces, the house was dark, depressing and everyone was living on top of each other. The brief was breathing space – together but apart. The whole family can now be in any kitchen, living or dining nook, divided by courtyard and spatial play, but feel a sense of retreat. A “V” light-well with a special curved glass corner to the southern boundary breaks up the mass and fills the space with light and ventilation. 

australian vernacular home


Tiger Prawn packs an environmentally sustainable punch with insulated double brick cavity walls, double glazing with low-e, cross ventilation, thermal floor mass and a tidy footprint.