The Victorian cottage is fairly singular as a building idea: a row of dense, enclosed, usually ill-lit spaces lined up along a narrow centre of circulation. They are cosy, sometimes, but seldom modern. And yet a wave of new alterations and additions to such residential structures are starting to bring the humble cottage into the new millennium.
Take Henry Street House, a weatherboard cottage tucked deep in Melbourne’s suburbia, modest in both scale and budget. When Eugene Cheah Architects (ECA) came on-board to extend this emblematic family home, they did not have revolution in mind. Rather, their modernisation project consisted of stripping back, opening up, and quite simply extending the existing fabric of the building type.
The structure and cladding used to extend Henry Street House is almost entirely one, unified material: laminated hoop pine. The pared back wood is not only used as a structural element, but as the main expression of the house. The predominant aesthetic feature of the interior is a wave of exposed wooden beams that ripple across the ceiling and follow the walls to the ground.
These undulating rafters further appear to change throughout the day as they diffuse light that enters through a full-length skylight on the northern edge of the home; an addition that does revolutionise preconceived notions of a dark and dingy weatherboard cottage. The rafters serve to further amplify the effect of abundant sunlighting.
While the openness of the extension gives the appearance of spaciousness, the work of ECA runs deeper than simple illusion. As well as opening the home to the world outside with the addition of windows, they also extended the internal spaces, somehow managing to insert two new bathrooms, a laundry, and a new bedroom into the diminutive floorplan.
From the architect:
What are the sustainability features?
The predominant material in the extension is Australian plantation-grown Araucaria Cunninghamii, commonly [known as] Hoop Pine. The exposed roof structure is Hoop Pine laminated veneer lumber. The ceiling and wall cladding is exposed Hoop Pine structural plywood bracing. The joinery is A-grade Hoop pine plywood throughout.
This renewable resource is used in the form of laminated timber sheets – one of the most efficient and therefore sustainable, responsible and economical ways to use timber.
The expressive structural elements created an opportunity to collaborate closely with the structural engineer and timber fabrication specialist.
The custom-made laminated veneer lumber structure was achieved cost-effectively and efficiently by engaging directly with the CNC fabrication process. The LVLs were cut from wide, full slabs, and the resultant wastage – which would normally be discarded – was simply redistributed to create rafters of varying depths. The final form was adjusted and developed parametrically to fully utilise each slab of LVL material.
What was the brief?
The brief called for an addition to a Victorian weatherboard cottage. The project involved the removal of an existing extension made up of dark, tight rooms, with [a] generous and well-lit kitchen, [and] dining and living spaces to be built in its place. Within the retained original Victorian heritage fabric, two new bathrooms, a laundry and a new bedroom were inserted.
What were the key challenges?
The key challenge was to create an extension, which, while quite different in character to the existing heritage fabric, would nevertheless have a meaningful dialogue with it. The new extension was required to have generous and well-lit spaces, which was a challenge on this narrow terrace site.
What were the solutions?
In the existing cottage, cornices and roses of the Victorian ceilings served as ornamentation as well as a means to define a room or space. This approach was appropriated for the extension, where the roof structure is utilised expressively. The rhythmic variations in the depths of the rafters provide figuration and delineation to the living, dining and kitchen spaces.
A continuous skylight provides even natural lighting throughout the space. The varying depths of the rafters diffuse and filter sunlight. The rhythmic structural elements animate the light and shadow across the space.