When renovating an existing building, do you remain faithful to the period architecture or turn your back on history? Find out more about the Harcourt house and the most important things to consider when undertaking a renovation project of your own.
Downsizing is never easy, however in the case of Art van Dyk and Troy West it was the right next step. They had spent the last 20 years in a classic Georgian 1850’s homestead, which they restored to its original glory. They ran it as a successful 28 bedroom guest house where every space was shared. Now Art and Troy were seeking a different style of living.
The need for their own space meant they wanted to downsize the house but not the land, so the search was on for the right property. Their passion for history led them to 70 acres on an old granite quarry at Harcourt. The site had been dormant for 50 years, but once supplied granite to key buildings in Melbourne. The appeal was the site’s rich history and its remnant piles of rock, quarry holes and workers’ buildings. The average buyer might be discouraged, but it was these constraints and subsequent possibilities that made this specific site so special.
The site was bound by tight heritage and archaeological restrictions, as well as requirements to obtain permits from parks, farming and fire departments. For the most part, this meant the quarry and everything on it had to be left untouched. The final built form, designed by Architect Andrew Richardson, is a contemporary 450 square metre symmetrical cubic home over 3 levels, bound at either end by remnant workers cottages, just like bookends.
Renovations like Harcourt Quarry in regional locations aren't always simple, however, and can be more complex when renovating in suburban areas.
There are 3 key principles to consider when renovating an existing building:
1. What design aesthetic will you implement?
You can either remain faithful to the original style and architecture or you can modernise the project by fusing the old elements with contemporary ones. Once you know the design style you need, the process will become easier. Here are some tips to consider:
- In order to remain faithful to the original style and preserve the existing character, you should consider the placement of the extension, the materials you plan to use, the scale of the build and also the impact of the extension. At the same time, a contemporary spatial planning approach and sustainable design that meets today’s living needs to be considered.
- If modernising the project is what you are after, your design constraints are not as rigid as long as you meet your local authority requirements. Contemporary additions can reinvigorate aging structures while complementing their context. Often you’ll find that these new additions push the limits and are in a contrasting design aesthetic to the existing form they are connecting to.
2. Selection of materials
This is a key component in the design process. Whether you’re adding on a contemporary addition or staying in the style of the existing architecture, the right selection of material is vital.
Different types of materials can be used to create a “modern interpretation” of an original building. An easy way to do this is to change the texture and surface finishes that are applied eg. smooth to rough, matte, satin and polished.
The way materials complement or contrast each other is the key.
3. Connection detail - Where old meets new
Here are some points to consider when trying to blend the old with the new with your build:
- Make a visual distinction between old and new through material selection process, colour choices, finish, scale and clever detailing
- Before you start, you should consider whether you want to keep faithful to the architectural period or contrast it. Often this crossroads gives you a great opportunity to create something special. When choosing the contrasting design path, material selection and the details connecting the old to the new fabric is key. This detail should connect these two periods in an innovative and cohesive way.
Engawa House by Black Line One X Architecture Studio
The Engawa House in North Fitzroy, Victoria, is a great example of a suburban area where the architect found clever ways to merge old and new elements in a balanced and harmonious way.
The architect structured the design around the concept of “Engawa”, referring to an exterior hallway on the side of a traditional Japanese dwelling. This hallway is a transitional space between inside and outside.
However, what makes this such a fine example is the sensitive but deliberate way in which both the old single storey weatherboard terrace and the new double storey addition merge. The existing exposed brick fireplace is the key element which connects the old home to its new addition by creating a physical separation between the two built forms.
This is further emphasised by the use of very different materials and colours The red brick fireplace is sandwiched by two distinct monochromatic elements. The black stained plywood form anchors the corner of the site relative to the adjoining factory and the white weatherboard terrace brings the scale of the family home in line with the residential context.
Images obtained courtesy of Black Line X Architecture studio. Photo by Peter Bennetts.