Top five: Residential adaptive re-use

Feb 3, 2012
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Designer

This year’s Boral Design Award asks architects to imagine a new life for an aging inner city warehouse, turning it from derelict urban space into a thriving residential community. With $34,000 in prize money up for grabs, we bring you five of Australia’s best residential adaptive re-use projects by way of inspiration.

Competition closes 1 March 2012.
 Download the competition brief and entry guidelines at


Hill Thalis, Substation No.175 (2005)

Hill Thalis’ adaptive re-use project repurposes one of Sydney’s decommissioned substations, previously housing transformers used for the city power supply. Small in scale, this intervention revitalises a defunct industrial relic in Surry Hills to create a residential project with a compact footprint of just 44sqm.
Two apartments – each occupying three storeys – have been stacked onto the substation, with a café on the ground level. The material palette celebrates the industrial character of the original, with a concrete structure, zinc exterior cladding and, internally, steel mesh stairs that provide vertical circulation up through the apartments. The original street façade has been retained, with entry to the apartments through the substation door.

Photograph by Brett Boardman


Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects: Portico, The Scots Church Redevelopment (2005)

This project saw TZG transform the disused heritage-listed Scots Church in Sydney’s CBD – originally designed by Rosenthal, Rutledge and Beattie in 1927-30 – into a residential development.
Sitting atop the original six-storey building, the form of the new zinc-clad addition borrows from the neo-Gothic language of the church. For structural support, the project makes use of an existing steel frame, installed when the church was first built as support for an additional six storeys – a plan later abandoned with the arrival of the Depression.

The rhythm of zinc and glass reinterprets the architecture of the heritage building, while variation between glazing, blinds and shutters reflects the project’s residential use. Double-storey apartments are contained within a graduated height plane, which preserves solar access to the neighbouring park, and also transforms the south-facing roof into a façade in its own right.

Photographs by Brett Boardman & Patrick Bingham Hall


Ian Moore Architects: Strelein Warehouse (2011)

Ian Moore’s award-winning project in Surry Hills, Sydney reworks a nineteenth-century grocery warehouse into a two-level private residence. A 10mm steel plate defines a series of spaces within the residence, separating the garage from the internal stair and wrapping the kitchen. The existing structure is retained and distinguished from the new additions with a strict monochromatic colour palette – with additions in black, and old building elements painted white. Externally, the patina of the original brickwork is contrasted by the slick precision of the new steel plate, indicating the transformation from industrial to residential building type.

Photograph by Iain D MacKenzie


Multiplicity: Westwyck Unit 4 (2010)

Unit 4 is one residence within a sustainable residential development called Westwyck, and is housed within a former primary school hall in Brunswick, Melbourne. New construction work by another architecture firm had already commenced when Multiplicity took on the project, meaning the design outcome was constrained by new as well as original building fabric. New elements are inserted within the building shell, while the ground floor remains open – providing a communal family space that recalls the common use of the school hall. The response features predominantly recycled, re-used and salvaged materials, and closable zones to buffer the hall space.

Photographs (including first image) by Emma Cross


Welsh + Major, Pitt Street House (2009)

Welsh + Major’s architectural intervention in Sydney’s Redfern adapts a Georgian terrace, built in the 1840s by architect James Hume. Driven by ideas surrounding the continual evolution of residential space in urban areas, the project celebrates the passage of time and the different additions made over the years. Raw brickwork is exposed in some areas, faded paintwork is retained and weatherboard cladding is re-used on the bedroom balcony, while new elements are painted white by way of contrast. The end result is a layered and textured project that celebrates the role of material and surface in defining a built environment.

Photograph by Brett Boardman


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09 Feb 12 at 11:24 AM • david earp

As great as Welsh Major’s project is, how does renovating a house become adaptive re-use? It has always been and continues to be a house!

09 Feb 12 at 1:44 PM • Mat Ward

Hi David:

A fair point, although it is strictly speaking now two houses with the addition of the granny flat at rear – which, for this particular project, was all the excuse we needed to bend the rules a little. The granny flat, unfortunately, is not visible here. All we can do at this point is beg forgiveness from our astute readers for trying to swing one by them…



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