When design practice HIP V. HYPE was tasked with building a family home on a modest block in inner-Melbourne, they used the project as a testing ground for unsubstantiated ideas. This might have been a sure-fire way to make their client nervous, if it weren’t for the fact that the client, Liam Wallis, was both founder and director of the practice.
The concept behind the build was to increase density without decreasing liveability. The solution demonstrated a split focus between efficient use of the site, user-centric design, affordability, and integration with the street.
1 North Street, completed in 2013, is the townhouse-style result of HIP V. HYPE’s experimentation. A two-for-the-price-of-one solution to the client’s mixed needs, the project is split into two townhouses, each with a different scale of purpose.
From the designer (slash client):
What motivated you to design and build your own home?
I wanted to design, detail and build a home with design merit on a modest budget. Having worked on a small project in St. Kilda East, I was ready for the next challenge. In 2011, property prices were already too high to undertake a project south-side. Brunswick was a logical [progression].
I also wanted to explore ideas of enhanced liveability in the context of increasing density, which I think is particularly relevant to the housing climate we face.
Having worked on a number of architecturally-designed homes as a labourer [during] university, I noticed that, despite the [price] clients pay in pursuit of a design idea, the outcome does not necessarily improve the [user] experience. This just didn’t make sense to me. I decided to design and build a home with design integrity [that also maintained] affordability.
What were some of the key design principles behind 1 North Street?
I am a big believer in the importance of detail resolution. Effective collaboration between designer and builder is essential to ensure a cost-effective resolution of details that are robust, beautiful and easy to maintain. I am also interested in designing for tolerance and ease of assembly with simple yet elegant resolution of natural, personable and recycled material where possible.
Affordability is not just a consideration during construction. Maintenance over the life of a building should also be considered [during the design phase] in order to decrease costs over time. Highly textured materials, such as timber, require more regular maintenance, [so these were placed] at ground level [within easy reach]. Low-maintenance materials, such as Colorbond, were used in areas out of reach of a standard ladder. This [approach] has the added benefit of maximising texture and warmth at everyday touch-points at the human scale.
It was also important to maximise integration with the street. I’m a big believer in the ability of incidental interaction to break down boundaries and strengthen community. The design for the front yard was designed with multiple layers, which [facilitate a] transition between public and private space.
A very deliberate decision was made not to install blinds to the ground-floor living area. Instead, an open-posted recycled timber fence prevents all but perpendicular external sight lines. An arrangement of native tea tree is placed inside the fence to create a layer of permeable screening to the set-back front yard, with passive seating made from recycled railway sleepers. The seating ledge is separated from the living room by timber sliding doors obscured to waist height, which provide the inhabitants [with] complete privacy. The use of layering enables connections to [form] between inhabitants and passers-by. Having lived in the house for four years, I can genuinely say that I haven’t felt once that my privacy has been compromised, nor have we seen a need to install blinds.
What are the benefits of living in a smaller space?
Smaller spaces, designed well, can provide pretty much everything you need to live well.
Less space allows for greater interaction between people. Relief is an important aspect of well-designed small spaces; clear boundaries should be established to allow for sanctuary when needed. Clutter impedes on the use and enjoyment of a space, [so] creatively integrated storage design is important to ensure essential things have a home and are easily accessible.
Less is not about affordability; it’s about what we need to live well.
What impact do you think a project like this can have on the local community?
We believe in using design as a tool to bring people together while providing sanctuary from the world when needed. By opening out onto the street, we increase opportunities for connection and kinship. Provided sufficient layering is used to maintain privacy, design strategies can be used to increase incidental interaction and build a sense of community.
What cultures around the world inspire you to do what you do?
I have been fortunate [enough] to spend extended periods of time living and studying in both Japan and Denmark. These two countries have somewhat similar [attitudes] towards the value of design. Their cultural attitudes toward design have had a significant influence on my approach and will continue to do so. The Japanese appreciation of the integrity of natural materials [and] beauty in imperfection [is] commonly referred to as ‘Wabi-sabi’. The Danes’ human-centred approach to community and closeness [is] commonly referred to as ‘Hygge’. Both cultures [are known] for their strong association with our natural world and the importance they place on maintaining a connection to the natural rhythms.
Designing a townhouse with a small footprint must come with a lot of compromise. How do you assess what’s essential?
I don’t agree. Our three-bedroom townhouse at 1 North Street has a similar internal area to the previous house that occupied the site. We benefit from the separation of living and sleeping zones, and the size of the roof deck is similar to the size of the backyard of the previous house. By building two townhouses, we significantly increased the affordability of a similar level of internal accommodation.
Starting anew also allowed us to build to a significantly higher standard of energy efficiency. A two-story form with a shared party wall has significantly less external surface area, leading to reduced temperature gain in summer and loss in winter.
Outlook can be designed into the way spaces interact, creating connection to the external environment when views aren’t available. This focus on connection allows for natural light, ventilation and energy transfer to be considered, creating [a series of] comfortable places.