Australian Design: Light Box
A contemporary cubic form constructed primarily with glass and concrete has become an adored family home brimming with light and style.
In the culturally diverse Sydney suburb of Earlwood, Darren and Gayle Macbeth knew there was much to improve about their three-bedroom 1920s Californian Bungalow. On 490 square metres of land, there was room to extend up and back, however they quickly realised an extension wasn’t going to provide the spaces they wanted and made the decision to knock down and start again.
The couple compiled their wish list of space their family required – four bedrooms, study, kitchen, lounge and dining, double car garage and pool – and went about finding an architect to help them visualise it.
“We wanted a modern house that was environmentally sustainable and we didn’t want brick; we wanted to use other materials,” says Darren. “We also knew that we wanted a box, with a flat roof and rooftop access.
“We thought about the surrounds, how the house would look in its street surrounding and within the suburb environment. We had to be careful and sympathetic to the area,” he adds.
With a shortlist of three architects drawn up, the Macbeth’s first (and ultimately only) meeting was with Neil Mackenzie, principal with Mackenzie Pronk Architects.
“Neil interpreted what we wanted into something that was modern and with the materials we wanted – a big glass and concrete box – and bought it together into a package that suited the environment,” Darren explains.
Taking the brief, Mackenzie understood that his clients wanted a “house of this century with contemporary volumetric architecture”. In addition, theuse of glass allows a great amount of light into the house from front to back.
“There were some things they were clear on in terms of the look and finishes, but they wanted it to be a dynamic and open form. Simple, open-plan cubic forms was how we interpreted it,” he says.
A narrow block, a steep slope and relatively close neighbouring properties, on top of a design not too out of style with the mixed heritage streetscape, were all challenges Mackenzie took on.
“In these confines, the challenge was how can we sculpt forms that serve the spaces that met our clients’ brief, but also did all the right things in terms of not overshadowing the neighbours or the property’s own outdoor spaces. In many ways, the sculpting of the forms was in response to those points,” he says.
These forms include a strong angled line through the main living space that is the form of the roof on the inside of the internal void. While Mackenzie concedes this is a traditional roof form on some levels, the interpretation from the street is the cubic shape.
Keeping it light...
The Earlwood house is constructed out of three main lightweight materials: EasyLap™ panel, ECOply and Western Red Cedar. Mackenzie says lightweight construction was chosen for benefits including external performance, look and price. “It’s a reasonably economic way to build.”
“Lightweight construction was best suited to the arrangement of spaces and the forms between a timber-clad base, flat FC sheet and the enclosing bracketing of the dark plywood cladding. Heavy materials were employed only where the mass would work positively, that being in the polished concrete floor on ground,” Mackenzie explains. “And the play between the different cladding materials is anotherlayer of the sculpture of the building.”
These lightweight construction materials also suited the clients’ aesthetic preferences and they were open to hearing about alternatives to concrete.
“Neil explained that concrete cost four times more and he also extolled the virtues of what a light house is and how it works, and we were completely on board,” says Darren. “We got the look and feel we wanted with better aspects of building by using the lightweight materials, so it was a win-win for us.”