Walking through the suburban laneways of Tokyo at night, one is struck most by the quality of light. It fills the streets in golden slats, cut up by the thin, vertical wooden panels that are characteristic of Japanese architecture.
West End House by Richard Kirk Architect has this same quality. Although its neighbouring residences are steeped in the somewhat homogenous housing typography of Brisbane’s West End, itt was, as the architect describes, “a rare fragment of previously undeveloped land in the historically dense inner-city suburb of West End”; an uncommon opportunity to do something however. However, the site of Richard Kirk’s project had a history dating back to the 1860s, and because of the well-established design of other houses on the block, there was a pressure to conform.
The client was a young family of three, who wanted their home to have a greater connection with the street. Before beginning the design process, Kirk took photographs of every house on the street for reference, and to gauge the extent of their difference. The architect also looked to apartment design for cues, as the site was on a tight plan bookended by houses that blocked light on either side.
Materially speaking, the resulting residence is what the architect calls “a contemporary interpretation of the architectural language typical of the area”, which is to say, the worker’s cottage. The economical material palette — predominantly relying on timber and plywood for its expression — continues to the interior, where it is interpreted in a stunning breadth of ways. Here, wood demonstrates it dexterous nature — as slatted acoustic panels, as floorboards, as solid block cladding to ceiling and walls.
Light and ventilation are maximised, as is storage space and flexibility. Different elements of joinery flip, fold, slide and pivot, turning the rigid, container-like interior into a space capable of shifting its meaning at function on a whim. Shafts of light enter the home through a thin, strip-shaped skylight that pans from wall-to-wall along the southern end of the home. Although the penetration of light is such that the home feels like an internal courtyard, solid façades on either side establish privacy from neighbouring residences.
West End House fits comfortably into its West End home, but its design is if anything a smart evolution of the suburb’s typological foundation. Richard Kirk says his aim was not to eschew, but rather to “re-invent” the housing type that was endemic to the Brisbane suburb. In the end, the result was “an alternative solution for single residential development that improves upon existing amenity within the constraints of an historically dense neighbourhood”.