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Sean Godsell’s Green House


All images by Earl Carter.

Joe Rollo: To step inside this inner-city dwelling, on a tiny plot on a tight little street close to the University of Melbourne, is to watch the unfolding of a two-act play: the first, the remodelling of an 1870s timber cottage into a one-room cabin; the other, the creation of an addition so finely tuned that Le Corbusier’s now-hackneyed ‘a machine for living’ catchcry seems its only apt description.


Exterior entrance to Green House.


Conceived as one room, the cottage, formerly a four-room renter brutalised in the 1970s, was stripped back to a single space for living and dining, integrating a concealed kitchen behind a bank of folding doors at one end and a full-height library at the other. The space between filled with a mobile dining/work table, two white chairs and a couple of small sofas, each placed carefully – almost as intruders – within the pure white box. Two light cannons draw light into the room, the floor is a deck of narrow strips of recycled brush box over a heated concrete slab.


Full height library.


Monastic in its simplicity, the remodelled cottage finds common ground with the new addition across a narrow courtyard and two banks of full-width glass doors, each looking directly into the other. Here the similarities end, however. Constructed of concrete and glass, the addition is a dynamic mechanised bunker, with no aspect but the sky.



Built to the site’s extremities, the entire roof is made of glass, with a remote-controlled sunscreen of automated aluminium panels configured to open in a number of ways – it can be folded and unfolded as if in a state of permanent transformation – to control and tailor summer sun and draw in winter light.


Looking towards the bedroom across the courtyard.


A centrally placed bathroom acts as the space generator about which are located two small bedrooms, both lined with banks of built-in storage, with independent mobile units concealing drop-down beds and a concealed study area, placed almost like stage props. The palette is spare: white and the softness of the grey concrete perimeter walls, floors are of stained strips of brush box, the lighting has been specially designed. There’s a kind of rigour here you seldom see in small projects of this kind. Like a fine piece of jewellery, all is crafted, all is exquisitely detailed.


Plan (above)
A Verandah
B Kitchen / living room
C Deck
D Study
E Bathroom
F Bedroom


Sean Godsell: Planning and heritage requirements and construction costs fundamentally drove the outcome of this project. Our client wanted a new house. Authorities and heritage experts deemed the house to be of some historical significance. Instead of abandoning our client, we agreed to start from scratch, keeping the front section of the cottage and reworking it and then building a discrete new section at the rear of the block. I saw the project in a different light and chose to revisit some projects that had inspired me as a young architect, in particular Kazuo Shinohara’s House in White and House in Hanayama No.3, as well as Tadao Ando’s Row House in Sumiyoshi or Azuma House, as it is sometimes known. The Row House in Sumiyoshi is a work of genius. I have written elsewhere about the building, describing it as ‘a seminal work of the second half of the 20th century’.


In simple terms, the cottage interior is remodelled to have a cathedral ceiling with a pair of timber posts supporting the ridge beam; two light cannons direct light to the centre of a single space, formed by the demolition of an existing wall. A small courtyard bound by concrete walls separates the cottage from the small addition, evoking the Row House in the process. To address issues of overshadowing and overlooking we kept the height of the addition low (three metres overall) and to compensate for a lack of light we made the roof of the entire addition glass, with an automated perforated aluminium sunscreen.


The sunscreen protects the occupant from summer sun but can be configured in a variety of ways to allow the ingress of winter sun. As the screen is operated from inside the house, the external appearance of the residence changes.

We finished the design of this project at the same time that RMIT Design Hub was completed and it served as a poignant reminder that the power of architecture is independent of scale.

ARCHITECT Sean Godsell Architects
PROJECT TEAM Sean Godsell, Hayley Franklin
BUILDING CONTRACTOR Sargant Construction Company
BUILDING SURVEYOR Wilsmore Nelson Group
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Perrett Simpson Stantin

This article appears in AR140-Small Spaces. The next issue of AR – AR141 – focuses on the work of Sean Godsell. AR141 will be available on Google Play, Zinio and throughout selected newsagents from Thursday 30 July.


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