Designing a home on a tight site is far from an easy task. But even more difficult is designing three dwellings on a tiny urban infill site. This was the case for a Shed Architects and Terence Yong-designed project in Sydney.

The architects were briefed to create three liveable townhouses with security parking in the suburb of Balmain. They had a 270-square-metre site to work with.

Covering only two-thirds of this site, the houses – quite simply named 3 Townhouses in Balmain – are designed down to the millimetre to accommodate competing fire regulation and separation, amenity and utility requirements.

“In return, such constraints result in an interesting sequence of dynamic spatial experiences that direct (movement), expand and contract in different shapes and forms,” says the architects.


Materials that reflected the suburb’s humble origins were picked for the exteriors of the three houses. Choices include weatherboard cladding, off-form concrete base walls, timber-framed windows and standing seam metal cladding. Different arrangements and colours gave each house an individual character and identity. 


Internally, the houses have different spatial qualities, views, vistas and relationships with outside.

“Each house is flexibly designed to offer a number of occupational opportunities: open-plan living areas are excluded from bedrooms but are visually connected with the street and its surrounding context hence contributing to passive surveillance,” says the architects.


Despite the site constraints encountered in this project, a central open core consisting of an open corridor and an open courtyard allow the three houses to be cross ventilated and to receive plenty of natural lights, both direct and reflected.

Other sustainability features include reversed block veneer construction; ‘Low-E’ and double glazing’s; highly insulated building envelopes; optimised deep soil areas; rainwater tank; on-site detention tank; bicycle parking; and tubular skylights to top level wet areas.