In a wide, tree-lined street in the Brisbane suburb of Clayfield, this rambling 1890s home sits on a large lot. Searching for it, however, reveals little evidence of its existence, not even a number on the driveway. The home has been jostled to the remnant south-eastern quadrant by previous sub-divisions, and is now landlocked by an assortment of residential styles, including mock Tudor and 1990s excess. The new owners approached Shaun Lockyer Architects with the preconceived idea of raising the house and building in beneath to make more space – because that’s the default stroke when you want to improve and enlarge the typical ‘Queenslander’ house. Already close to the property boundaries, this course of action would have necessitated a lengthy and costly planning application to seek relaxations on setbacks, resulting in a further disconnection in the relationship between the house and what remains of its surrounding open space.
New carport, with entertaining spaces above
The architects took an alternative strategy. By concentrating on the existing house’s inherent spatial and material qualities, and fully exploiting the site, the possibility for better performance and comfortable living has been dramatically increased. While earlier additions had made the interior space poorly lit and cramped, the existing building has largely been upgraded and today functions exceptionally well, benefiting from orchestrated interactions with sun, shade, breeze and views, so that the interior now floods with natural light. Instead of being raised, the house has been extended into the lot and into the environment. There is now a bathing pavilion off the bedroom wing on the east; a new living room and covered outdoor room on the south; and an enclosable, entertaining deck thrusting out to the north, reclaiming the view of the coastal plain down to Moreton Bay.
New spaces connect seamlessly to the original house
Set on the brow of the hill, the land comes up to meet the house, sitting within reach of the garden rather than above it. The original garage becomes a workshop and the alternative carport, which would have occupied the site’s best position, is now tucked beneath the entertainment space beside the new swimming pool. The entry sequence takes us under the walkway, which links the original house and the new pavilion, and up half a flight of stairs to a new porch. On the threshold of the house proper, the veranda eaves, in counterpoint to the high-ceilinged interior, come down low over the fully glazed entrance lobby.
Openings admit light into the porch
Due to the availability and vast range of choice, contemporary houses often use an overly complicated materials palette. Here, the materials that were available in the 1890s when the house was originally constructed – timber weatherboards, vee-jointed timber wall lining and hoop pine flooring – continue to have relevance and integrity, but the new additions are complemented by hardwood shiplap cladding and spotted gum decking, and the new ancillary spaces are arranged around the original core, linking to the house seamlessly, without breaking the integrity of the original hipped-and-ridged roofline. Functionally, aesthetically, spatially and materially, the ease with which the new additions supplement the original house belies the fact that they do not set out to replicate the late 19th century idiom in style or form.
Materials in the new addition complement the original home
The archetypal timber-and-tin Queenslander house is often criticised for being dark inside, with poor thermal properties – cold in winter, hot in summer. Not this one. Unlike surrounding properties, it does not ignore the advantages of the subtropical climate, and the environmental effect on the architecture is palpable. Despite proximity to neighbours, the house is very private yet has a feeling of openness. Masonry walls extend into the site laterally to shade windows from the angle of the sun, a strategy that also frames foreground views and mediates between the external environment and the spaces within. Openings are deftly handled in scale, location and adaptability to admit light where and as needed.
The interior balances sun, shade and breeze to suit the subtropical climate
At the same time, the architecture pays due respect to the sometimes high-intensity rainfall, with deep eaves on the original house and hoods folding and wrapping into the form of the new extensions. Brisbane’s natural environment is mostly congenial, a fusion between tropical exuberance and temperate restraint, like the house itself, which enriches the experience of subtropical living. Light fills the home in winter, eliminating the need for artificial lighting during the day. And there is light, indirectly, in summer, although it doesn’t bring the heat in with it.
By avoiding the impulse to raise the house, the architects have achieved notable success. They have allowed the owners to enjoy the property on both a functional and an experiential level. At the same time, through deliberate juxtaposition of space and mass, void and solid, they have enacted classic architectural principles: a play of light and shadow on three-dimensional form, not only externally, but internally as well.
Rosemary Kennedy is the director of the Centre for Subtropical Design and senior lecturer in architecture in the School of Design at QUT.