Barrow House

WINNER at the 2009 Australian Timber Design Awards

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“The northern suburbs of Melbourne are wonderfully grounding for a designer, they are a clear palimpsest of Australia, the empty ideological vision overlaid with decades of quiet cultural and ethnic tension that has blossomed into something very distant and far richer than its original intent. There is something exciting about being allowed to contribute to a suburb that is 2 or 3 generations old. Like many Australians who grew up in the suburbs I have a love/hate relationship with them. I often have had trouble seeing the suburbs clearly. When you grow up in the suburbs it is difficult to be objective as the suburbs are an aspirational and ideological landscape. We are constantly forced to look at the promise of the place rather than the reality. The Barrow house was one of those rare moments of clarity where one steps back and sees this vast field of strangely organised growth and accumulation of objects. Barrow is a direct contribution to this pattern, not a reinvention, criticism or critique. At AMA we have decided to love the context for what it is and continue its pattern of strangely organised growth and accumulation of objects.”

Andrew Maynard

Project Location
Brunswick, Melbourne VIC

Project Description
The Barrow extension appears as an arrangement of timber boxes, each independently rotated and subjected to varying amounts of extruding and manipulating forces.

These separate actions result in a variety of shapes, which united, create an interior of differing volumes and organizations, providing an interesting double story addition to this weatherboard house.

The extension challenges the traditional nature of timber construction. Normally lightweight and fragile, added wall thickness to different areas results in a structure with a fluctuating sense of mass. The dynamic and varying nature of these environments is further enhanced by differing window arrangements and framing techniques. Frequently the windows are setback within the frame of the wall, sometimes flush and occasionally extruding beyond the timber frame.

This unconventional approach to massing and window design subverts the conservative planar nature of a ‘box’. The movement of the shadows created by these extruding or intruding elements are tracked on the external facade and internal environment, creating varying patterns and giving the extension an undefined geometry.

The external timber cladding wraps itself inside and fuses the extension into the original house, where the old living space now is occupied as a bathroom. Here, there is no evidence of  conventional bathroom materiality, the room still maintaining its appearance as a living/dining space. The only defining feature a free standing cast iron bath (re-used from the original demolished bathroom) at the centre of the room, demonstrating the capability of a single element to alter the program of a space.

The strategic placement of a separate living space at the western end of the site, reflects the focus of the site internally, frames the large open area & increases privacy levels.

Both this new addition and the extension to the old part of the house, at the western end of the site, openly embrace this central garden space. Definition between indoor and outdoor is blurred by the transparent divisions of bifold doors and large windows; visual interaction is constant. This central outdoor spaces becomes part of the living circulation space as the diurnal patterns of the occupants see them traverse the yard to the rear living quarters.

The brighter, larger extension nurtures the dynamic, more numerous, day time activities, whilst the low key, more relaxed, activities of the afternoon are enjoyed in the sunroom at the western end of the site reflecting back on the outdoor yard and pool, watching the cinematic shadows play across the irregular face of the Barrow’s extension.

The extensive openable window and bifold door arrangement accompanied by Barrow’s  orientation allows for abundant natural light and ventilation to infiltrate the spaces, decreasing reliance on electrical and heating/cooling systems.

The entirety of the design also employs materials reused from the parts of the previous house as well as recycled or found elements, decreasing the carbon footprint of the design and also adding character to the spaces.

Photos 1-4 & 6-23 by Peter Bennetts


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