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Beyond the façade at Skin Box House

March 4, 2016

Kate McMahon and Rob Nerlich of man|architects take us through their design of Skin Box House, an innovative solution to the problem of increasing the size of a modest house on a narrow sloping site in Windsor.

Above image: The roof terrace at Skin Box House. Image credit: superk

The Skin Box House is man|architects an innovative solution to the problem of increasing the size of a modest house on a narrow sloping site. Additions include a dramatic covering box with a diaphanous polycarbonate skin and a rooftop terrace with city skyline views. The skin box reflects light and shadow by day and glows at night providing an ever-changing appearance. The conceptual and literal lightness of the materiality floats over the unified living area and garden below.

The relationship between the garden and the living area is transformed. The retention of existing birch trees provides a conceptual grounding to the garden experience, and new internal and external timber linings to ceiling, joinery, fencing and insertions, together with fully glazed wall, dissolve the barrier between the interior and exterior creating a generous and conceptually complex indoor-outdoor space.

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What was your approach to the design?

The design partition strengthens the zoned living areas to provide retreat space for the occupants and the relationship to the garden is dramatically transformed. Minimization of structure and concealed wall bracing allow for a fully glazed wall. This glazing, together with the central sliding door, a flush threshold and consistent floor treatments, dissolve the barrier between the living area and the garden. Tongue and groove timber ceiling and joinery are matched with vertical timber battening to the garden fence providing a material relationship between interior and exterior. Two confined spaces have become one generous and conceptually complex interior/exterior living space.

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What about the “skin-box”?

The new bedrooms and ensuite are located cantilevered over the garden-living zone a half level above the existing bedrooms, experiencing soft and variable light conditions from the polycarbonate skin that contains them. Hooded horizontal clear windows puncture the skin and provide treetop views within the restrictive parameters of the overlooking regulations. The day view of skin box house shifts and changes. Bright blue skies reveal silvery skin and birch-trees cast shadows that shift and change. Stormy skies cast purple hues and mercurial leaf patterns. The night view of the skin emanates a soft glow with the brighter strips of interior revealed, enveloping the roof terrace which frames the city lights beyond.

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Describe the roof terrace and its relationship to the urban realm.

The stair that leads to the skin box returns back and leads to the new second floor roof terrace. Sitting over the existing roof and simply spanning between the existing walls provided a deceptively simple and economical structural solution. Polycarbonate balustrades, timber lining to wall and roofing, and an aluminium privacy hood conceptually connect to the spaces below. The roofing and the hood provide a horizontality suggestive of the expansive and long range views to the city centre and surrounds. Providing a dramatic rooftop experience, the pop up addition makes an idiosyncratic contribution to the streetscape.

What makes this project different?

The slenderly proportioned relationship between inside and outside on such a tiny, 6m frontage site, and the scale of the door which dissolves this boundary together with the judicious use of the cantilevered translucent skin all resonate with the site and are innovative in application. Deceptively minimal, the kitchen defies convention by stepping in from both edges, to create the perception of spatial generosity.

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What sustainability features does the project have?

Sustainability of projects is a key consideration in every project. For the skin box house a number of strategies were used to minimise the environmental impact of the project and to make a more positive contribution in some areas.

A primary strategy was to work with the existing building to retain as much of the existing house as possible while meeting the conceptual and accommodation needs of the project. Extending beyond simply retaining the structure the strategy included retention of interior fitout as well. For example the existing bathrooms and laundry were maintained. The only significant piece of demolition was the curved roof of the rear living room to allow for the construction of the new bedrooms and ensuite above. Other minor demolition included the doorway into the newly constructed kitchen pantry and the opening up of the bedroom wall to allow the extension of the stair to the new upper levels. To the new roof deck the design allowed for the existing roof to remain with the new decking over.

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In terms of the energy efficiency of the envelope double glazing is used to all new windows and the new walls and roofs are highly insulated. Daylighting is maximized by large glazing areas and the polycarbonate box skin. Solar control to the living room west facing glazing is provided by the overhanging of the first floor skin box and the retention of three mature deciduous trees in the garden. To the skin box windows are provided with projecting sunshading/privacy hoods allowing daylight and views with minimized direct sun. The retention of the mature trees in rain garden planters collect water from the concrete garden paving and reduce stormwater runoff.

www.manarchitects.com.au

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