When light is the backbone of design

In the Southern Hemisphere having a north-facing house is seen as a bonus, but what do you do when north is your street frontage, and you value privacy and security?

CLEVER: Despite the north facing frontage, the rear living areas have great access to northern light. Photos: Tatjana Plitt.

CLEVER: Despite the north facing frontage, the rear living areas have great access to northern light. Photos: Tatjana Plitt.

This was the challenge facing architect Fiona Poon when her Victorian semi-retired, travel-loving clients asked for a design that provided a strong focus on their garden, a level of privacy from the street for when they were away for longer periods of time, and also some space they could zone off for when the grandkids came to stay.

Fiona said the big starting point was the way the Pascoe Vale South house sat in relation to the rest of the street; this house is detached, and its shape and scale are relative to its neighbours.

"Given the northern frontage, we wanted to create courtyards along length of the house which provide the living areas with as much access to direct northern light as possible, and gives each space a garden aspect," she said.

The simple form and scale of the building is an interpretation of the gabled rooves of the immediate neighbours.

The simple form and scale of the building is an interpretation of the gabled rooves of the immediate neighbours.

"We designed a secure front entry courtyard which gives the entry area a special quality, providing a layer of separation between the sanctuary of their home and the street - this flows onto a light-filled central circulation spine, connecting the main living/dining and sleeping areas," she said.

"The courtyards help to make the entire house feel like a part of the garden, and despite the north facing frontage, the rear living areas have great access to northern light.

"The rear living room opens to the garden with full height glazing, giving this part of the house a generous feeling of space."

The courtyards also provide a visual link between the master bedroom, dining and kitchen - spaces where the client would spend most of their time.

Highlight windows above these courtyard links let northern light stream in, which creates a steady play of light in the rear south-facing living spaces throughout the day.

While these windows allow light while maintaining privacy, Fiona said they also provide views of the sky.

LINKED: A light-filled central circulation spine connects the main living/dining and sleeping areas.

LINKED: A light-filled central circulation spine connects the main living/dining and sleeping areas.

"We find this makes for a very peaceful space when you can watch the clouds go by and have the shadows move across the room throughout the day.

"To accentuate this, the hallway - the spine of the house - is punctuated by views to sky, streams of daylight, and areas to rest and enjoy the garden," Fiona said.

On the opposite side to the garden, a highly tactile masonry wall provides a visual and acoustic separation between the main living areas, and the kids' zone.

"The materials palette is something our clients typically have a big input on - its important to us that they feel comfortable in their own home, and the finishes/colour of a house plays a big part in that.

"In this project this was definitely the case, and we agreed that the darker palette really helps the house to be more of a backdrop to the garden and greenery," Fiona said.

A secure front entry courtyard provides a layer of separation between the sanctuary of their home and the street.

A secure front entry courtyard provides a layer of separation between the sanctuary of their home and the street.

From the road, the simple form and scale of the building is an interpretation of the gabled rooves of the immediate neighbours, and despite its dark and broody materials palette, Fiona said it expresses a conscious effort to blend in with the suburban streetscape.

The design of the house also reflects sustainability principles.

"There is double glazing throughout, with cross flow ventilation promoting cool air flow from the south; the house's orientation is more focused on north and east, with less openings/glazing to the west to help protect the interiors from harsh summer sun.

"The owners just love living here, and have expressed how much it fulfils all their requirements, including having enough space to display their various treasures collected from their travels," Fiona said.

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