Hill House, Northcote
A brilliantly designed house is one that successfully fuses a range of factors to reflect the lives of its occupants. Often featuring in the pages of magazines and design books, the project responds to the issues of site, sustainability, climate, feasibility, aesthetic and history.
The Houses Awards 2012, presented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on July 26, celebrate the best of Australia’s residential architecture. There are nine categories, including house of the year, apartment, heritage, outdoor and sustainability.
James Jones, a design principal at Architectus, is one of six judges from an impressive line-up that also includes architects Rachel Neeson and Chris Connell.
Jones, who was president of the Tasmanian chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects and is a professor at the University of Tasmania, says the winners will present bespoke works that push the boundaries in design and construction.
“One thing that is obvious when judging projects of a similar type is that there is a lot of stylistic representation and repetition in Australian domestic design,” says Jones. “Projects that stand out always challenge the norm, and in effect add to the body of knowledge if they are good enough.”
Going by last year’s awards, the winning designs are the result of an extensive, if not obsessive, process.
Houses must be able to cater to, and express the individuality of, their inhabitants. To achieve this, architects must have an understanding of clients’ personalities and lifestyles; this might evolve into the formation of a folio made up of their clients’ favourite images, or a survey of questions ranging from a client’s favourite colour to what they eat for breakfast.
Although it might seem extreme, a good relationship between the architect and client can make or break the design process.
“House design is really about enriching a place and someone’s life, and if a project does all of this, then I think it becomes an exceptional design,” says Jones.
Site and context are equally important. Materials, structures, even aesthetics, will be governed by a house’s location, terrain, weather conditions. Often the best are sympathetic and responsive to their environment.
Last year, the house of the year title went to a farmhouse built at the foothills of a mountain range. Located in rural New South Wales, the project, designed by Virginia Kerridge Architect, was described as being “simultaneously fragile and monumental”.
It was scaled to the landscape and sited around two existing stone cottages. The judges stated: “The designer has created an elegant yet beguiling utilitarian house that truly captures the spirit of the place.”
While only in its second year, the awards play an important part in the industry – they give architects the opportunity to showcase their work and inspire others.
Winning an award leads to a level of recognition and publicity that the project deserves and, as architect Connell suggests, it can eventuate into “new projects, but more importantly self-pride”.
Looking at this year’s shortlist, it would appear that Victoria dominates the entries. And with several nominations in all nine categories, it wouldn’t be surprising if a Victorian architecture firm takes home the top prize.
“Victoria, and in particular Melbourne, is the design capital of Australia, with a vibrant set of architecture schools,” says Jones. “The architecture profession in Melbourne consists of many exemplary design practices that lead Australian architecture currently.”
» To view all 64 nominated projects, go to:
Category \ House Alteration and Addition under 200 square metres
Project name \ Hill House, Northcote
Architects \ Andrew Maynard Architects
This dynamic addition to a family residence in Northcote was inspired by the desire to access more light and provide a place to sit and enjoy the sun. Learning from past mistakes, the architect built on the rear boundary – the southern edge of the block. This allows for the new structure to face the old house, enjoying far better solar access than a rear extension would ever have allowed, and creating a backyard between the two buildings. The sloping area allows space to relax and play, with a cantilevered box above providing shelter from the fierce summer sun.
Airlie Bank, South Yarra
Category \ Apartment, Unit or Townhouse
Project name \ Airlie Bank, South Yarra
Architects \ Neometro, in collaboration with MA Architects, Melbourne
This tight 610-square metre site, the former tennis court of the Victorian Police college, Airlie is home to a four-storey apartment building with eight dwellings. The textured façade of glass and reinforced-concrete screens successfully provides the residents with privacy while also paying homage to the rich architectural heritage of the area. With the brief to create designs that appeal to buyers, the interiors embrace a multitude of textures, materials and hues – from parquetry flooring to exposed concrete, marble, timber surfaces and moss-green carpet. Yet they are beautifully curated to ensure spaces that are functional, elegant and enduring.
House Reduction, Kew
Category \ Sustainability
Project name \ House Reduction, Kew
Architects \ MAKE architecture studio
This house was inspired by the desire to create a space where the emphasis is on design rather then size. Bravely reducing the original footprint by removing one of the bedrooms to make way for an additional bathroom that was requested by the clients, the architects cleverly reconfigured the multifunctional living area – details such as window seats and study nooks create rooms within rooms. Although smaller, the flexible, open spaces and minimalist palette allow for plenty of light and create a general feeling of openness.
Seaview House, Barwon Heads
Category \ New House over 200 square metres
Project name \ Seaview House, Barwon Heads
Architects \ Jackson Clements Burrows
Located in a street dominated by shacks and cottages, this design was carefully conceived to embrace the essence of the clients’ rural and coastal lifestyle and to ultimately accommodate the later stages of their lives. Replacing their deteriorating weatherboard cottage, the house has huge pitched roofs that inflate the feeling of spaciousness without destroying the neighbourhood’s character.