When the clients of this North Perth project engaged architect Nic Brunsdon, they requested a house that would maximise the compact site, much like a Japanese urban-infill house, and ideally be made from concrete.
Budget restrictions meant using in situ concrete wasn’t possible, so Nic Brunsdon’s team devised an alternative: concrete precast panels. These panels would not only be utilised as the actual building structure, but as the finishing material throughout the interiors.
‘By using this commercial construction system as the main conceptual organising principle, the project was able to gain significant budget and time savings, while maintaining legible design integrity and innovation in housing type,’ says practice director Nic Brunsdon.
Two panel types were selected for the project – one for the ground floor running east-west (parallel to the street), and another for the upper-storey running north-south and pointing to the city.
Each panel is punctuated with one of two arch designs, which serve both an aesthetic and practical purpose, and were perhaps subconsciously inspired by a Japanese library. ‘I had recently been to Japan and seen the Tama Art University Library by Toyo Ito, and I’m sure that was rattling around in my head somewhere at the time of design,’ explains Nic. ‘The major reason for the arches, however, was to soften the concrete panels, and give it a more human and domestic scale.’
These arches were also coincidentally reminiscent of the clients nonna’s home – a ubiquitous brown brick, 70s suburban house with its own arches throughout. Nic explains, ‘To keep that spatial history present, and supplement the familial emotive connection to arches, original light fittings from that house were salvaged and incorporated into the design.
The first of the two arches in this new home is the ‘grand arch’, used to signify significant gestures in the house. The ‘pedestrian arch’ meanwhile spans the length and width of the site and indicates clean, perpendicular travel. ‘On opening the front door, an uninterrupted sightline is presented from the front to the rear of the lot. Similarly, on arriving on the first floor, the pedestrian arch presents the full width of the house,’ says Nic. ‘These are important gestures on a constrained site of 9.5 x 23 metres.’
When an arch is not practically required, this has been filled in with a timber inlay or insulated translucent polycarbonate sheet, while keeping the opening legible.
Materials also help differentiate spaces in this home. For example, raw concrete has been used on hardworking elements such as the structural panels and the floor; timber features features elsewhere, as kitchen joinery, balustrades and bedheads; and translucent sheeting mediates the hard sun to provide soft lighting.
There’s certainly a lot going on in this home, but every element serves a specific purpose, facilitating an overriding sense of calm. ‘I think the strength of the project is the simplicity of its concept and purpose,’ says Nic. ‘The joy comes from spatial clarity and I think this project demonstrates that throughout.’