Tower House is anti-monolith. Tower House is a village externally and a home internally. The clients, S+P, and their twin sons asked for a home “for community, art and nature to come together”. Andrew Maynard designed them a village. Inserted deftly into a suburban streetscape, the playful additions and alterations of the Tower House are a surprisingly comfortable and delightful fit.
From the street, the project’s defining tall-shingled “tower” can be seen alongside the renovated weatherboard cottage. As the site opens up towards the rear laneway, a distinctive character is revealed through a series of added pavilions, each possessing an apparently childlike silhouette of a house. Each of the profiles of the little pavilion “houses” is skilfully manipulated to turn a low-scale and well-finished face to the southern neighbour whose boundary the new buildings hug. This generous approach to the neighbourhood extends to the rear laneway, where a sunny, north-facing garden invites neighbours to engage.
The playful external pavilion forms reveal themselves internally through elegantly detailed skylights and a charming menagerie of domestic-scaled volumes. Diverse living zones have been provided with no hint of the disjuncture that might have been anticipated, all made right by the harmonious choice of materials and the skilful resolution of junctions between forms and finishes. There’s a timber-lined and book-lined study with its floor below ground level. Here one can look out at the level of flowers. Another highlight is the netted floor of the tall tower, where parents and children can escape and enter another world, suspended and cushioned with a framed view of the rear garden. It’s an absolute delight. This project demonstrates how the talents of the architect can deliver on a client’s ambition to be a positive influence in their community.
“The Tower House reinterprets a typical suburban house block as a village. The project involves the renovation and extension of a humble weatherboard cottage to accommodate a family of four. Rather than adding a large, dominating addition to the rear of the existing house, the architects have added a playful series of gabled volumes that reference the original building form along the boundaries of the site. The rooms expand and contract to form an engaging sequence of spaces uncharacteristic of the suburban context. The materiality of the project is understated. The exterior of each new volume is clad with timber shingles, which are finely detailed to emphasize their abstract forms and arrangement. The skilful placement of the new building volumes gives the outdoor spaces a rich spatial complexity and informality. The garden incorporates a vegetable patch and is cleverly designed to open to the street. The design strategy has resulted in a delightful and unexpected series of adaptable internal and external spaces of varying scale and character.” – Jury Citation/Australian Houses Awards
Andrew Maynard Architects:
S+P and their 8 year old twin sons asked for a home “for community, art and nature to come together”. We designed them a village.
Tower House is a renovation and extension to a weatherboard home in Alphington, Victoria, Australia. We restored the original, where we have two kids’ rooms, a bathroom and living spaces. A studio, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining occupy the new part of the house. Tower House is the result of endless conversations with a trusting, enthusiastic, patient and encouraging client.
Mum, dad and twin boys live at Tower House. The family have keen interests in the environment, outdoor recreation and the arts. We first met to discuss Tower House just days before a federal election. Fear that in two days we would have a new, particularly nasty, negative and destructive Prime Minister loomed heavily in the air. Our discussion on that first day was not about kitchens and bathrooms. Our discussions were about life, art, politics, charity, the universe and everything. We knew we had a great client on that first day. The words S+P used were carefully considered. Nurturing, stimulating, gallery, inspiring, delightful, both social and private, introverted and extroverted, legacy, responsibility, character, engaging, discourse and community. In their home S+P wanted the story to be about more than them. S+P wanted the story to include us. All of us.
Tower House is near parkland and the Yarra River, with views to the Amcor chimney stacks. Tower House is bound by two roads. One is a leafy post-war suburban street. The other, which faces onto backyards, feels like a country road. With the exception of a few new homes the context is small, humble weatherboard and brick abodes. A chunk of large contemporary architecture would be an imposition in this context.
Tower House is the result of a vast number of concurrent discussions about issues far broader than the home itself. Though the brief was not small, our proposition was to create a series of small structures of a scale and texture that did not dominate its context. Tower House is about a lot of things. Here are our highlights:
- The twins’ sketches: During an early design meeting we handed the twin boys paper and pencils and asked them to quietly entertain themselves while the adults spoke about ‘more important things’. After discussing the complexity of designing a home, and the various possibilities, we had all found ourselves deep down the rabbit hole, confused, lost and tired. We looked over to the boys to discover that they were not drawing cars, soldiers or dragons. Instead they had drawn their house. With modest confidence they slid their simple sketches, complete with notations, to me saying in unison “there you go”. Their sketches distilled a lot of ideas. They had firmly pushed the boat off the shore and we were on our way.
- Home as village: As homes increase in size they increasingly appear as hostile monoliths. When a home is extended, often the monolith crashes into the original. The later looking like an alien cancerous growth on the former. Tower House is anti-monolith. Tower House is village externally and a home internally. The house defies logic as the exterior appears to be a series of small structures, while internally the spaces and functions are large and connected. Like the Tardis, it’s small on the outside and large internally.
- Missing No.5: The mysterious case of the missing No.5. There is no No.5 in this street, which is odd. No.3 and No.7 sit side by side and no one can explain why No.5 was omitted. Tower House finds a small gap between 3 and 7 to build a new structure. It’s not No.5. The new tower fills the numerical gap. But the mystery remains.
- 5th elevation: When designing the Sydney Opera House Utzon spoke of the fifth facade, knowing that the roof will be the part of the building that dominates the view from the Harbour Bridge and the tall buildings nearby. The street front is no longer the public face of our buildings. Google Earth has made the roof the public face of our buildings, accessible to anyone at anytime. We can now easily see all of the mess that has been hidden on the rooftop. What was once hidden is now fully displayed. With this in mind we deliberately designed Tower House so that it looked beautiful from the sky and from Google Earth.
- It’s all about community: Increasingly our houses are overly concerned with privacy. Fences are getting higher and we are turning our backs to our neighbours. It’s starting to look less like house and garden and more like compound and security. What’s happening to neighbourhood and community? Tower House can be both. The front yard is now a communal vegetable patch. Neighbours are invited to help themselves and, if they wish, do a little gardening. The rest of the garden has a high fence around it, however you can see through the fence and, importantly the fences can be left open wide. With streets on both sides of Tower House neighbours can use the garden as a short cut and grab a few veggies on the way through. With the gates wide open the line between public and private starts to get blurred.
- The Net: Australia is wide and flat. As a result our homes are wide and flat. Our HOUSE House project explored the idea of creating a vertical home, in contrast to the typical Australian home. The boys studio pushes this idea further. It is a wholly vertical space with a bookshelf running from floor to ceiling. The boys desks are at the base of the studio, where they can studiously work. Hanging within this tall space is a net where the boys can read, and contemplate with a view to the street and a view to the backyard. The boys study is designed to inspire the boys as they grow and learn.
- Her library: S’ library is a place of thought and contemplation. Slightly submerged, the desk is almost buried in the garden. Lined with dark spotted gum the library has an age and a wisdom that is in contrast to the playful contemplation of the boys study.
- His spot: P has a sneaky spot in the roof space above the kitchen. Lined in synthetic grass with nothing more than a banana lounge and a book P’s spot it a hideaway within the centre of the house.
- Cha-cha-cha-changes: Tower House is a long-term family home. The boys will be adults when (if) they leave. The house can easily adapt from being a shared family home to being two separate zones with distinct entries. Within the original house we have hidden sliding panels which allow the large shared rooms to be divided into small. A variety of different activities can take place, whether shared or private. It’s the best of both worlds.
Like all of our buildings, sustainability is at the core of Tower House. Rather than simply extruding the existing structure we have run the new form along the southern boundary so that it is soaked with sunlight. The openings and windows have been designed to optimise passive solar gain, thereby drastically reducing demands on mechanical heating and cooling. All windows are double glazed. White roofs drastically reduce urban heat sink and heat transfer internally. Need for air-conditioning is eliminated through active management of shade, and flow through ventilation. Water tanks have their place as they do on all of our projects. High performance insulation is everywhere, even in the walls of the original house.
Project name: Tower House
Location: Tower Ave, Alphington Victoria 3078, Australia
Coordinates: -37.783833, 145.022666
- Type By Characteristic: Renovation / Expansion / Extension : House, Green & Sustainable House
- Type By Site: City / Town House
- Type By Size: Medium House – (201 sqm – 450 sqm)
- Type By Materials: Wooden House
Project Area: 225 sqm
Completion Year: March 2014
Client / Owner / Developer: Private
Architects: Andrew Maynard Architects – 551 Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 3068
Directors: Mark Austin, Andrew Maynard
Design Architect: Andrew Maynard
Project Architect: Mark Austin
Builder: Overend Constructions
Engineer: Maurice Farrugia and Associates
Garden Design: Bush Projects, Andrew Maynard Architects
Plant Selection: Bush Projects
Landscape Contractor: Lucida Landscapes
Stained Glass: Leigh Schellekens
Text Description: © Courtesy of Andrew Maynard Architects, Australian Houses Awards, Victorian Architecture Awards
Images: © Andrew Maynard Architects, Peter Bennetts