Stephen Crafti presents his latest Australian residential project for Open Journal, Fairfield House by MRTN Architects. With a major outdoor living space facing the street, a sense of community is maintained by a client whose roots are firmly in the neighbourhood.
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The owners of this house in Fairfield, Melbourne, were about to sign up to build a new home. The clients, a couple with three young children, had grown up in the area and were keen to remain in it. A design/build company they had engaged presented them with a scheme for a 320 square metre house, with a garage at street frontage that would have blocked the northern light. They were extremely apprehensive. “It wasn’t just the orientation however. The floor plan and bedrooms were considerably larger than they needed to be,” says Architect Antony Martin, Director of MRTN Architects.
So the initial plans were ditched and MRTN Architects were commissioned to build a new family home, including three bedrooms, a study and two separate living spaces, all within a 200 square floor plan.
One of the main challenges facing MRTN Architects was the orientation of the site, facing north in a quiet residential street. Martin’s solution took the form of an outdoor room/courtyard. While this space has concrete block walls and large picture windows’ (without glass), together with a steel front door, there’s no roof. “It feels like a room, and it’s literally flooded with natural light. The courtyard also functions as a link to the neighbours passing by,” says Martin. The stone paving in the courtyard is sparingly planted with a Chinese Elm. “Eventually, the elm will filter the northern light,” says Martin, who worked closely with landscape designer Hayden Barling. The 80 square metres within the courtyard is also roughly the same area that was reduced from the initial proposed design.
While there’s a separate front door located to the side of the courtyard, access to the outside area is via large sliding glass doors that frame the kitchen and living areas. And instead of one continuous open plan living area, as found in most contemporary homes, Martin loosely delineated the living area from the kitchen and dining area with a concrete block wall. “We used honed concrete blocks for the interior spaces, leaving them in their raw state for the courtyard walls,” says Martin, highlighting the smooth concrete blocks inside. Burnished concrete floors also create an important thermal mass during the winter months, with generous eaves to the north reducing excessive light during the summer months.
The striking ‘folded’ ceiling, lined in cedar, responds to the spaces within the home, but ‘kick up’ at certain point to add drama, as well as picking up on the western light. The folds, for example, are at their lowest point in the kitchen and rise to a gable end in the dining area. And to add an inner glow, Martin selected rose marble for the kitchen’s island bench.
Martin, who studied architecture in Auckland, was inspired by the New Zealand practice Group Architecture, in particular their designs from the 1950s and 60s. “I also love the work of Paul Rudolph, who designed many simple concrete homes in Florida around the same period,” says Martin. However, many of these homes were considerably smaller in area and Martin’s brief for a family home with three bedrooms and two living areas.
In contrast to the home’s front elevation, the rear elevation, finished in shadow clad and constructed with pre-engineered roof trusses, is relatively simple. The main bedroom is separated from the children’s wing by a second living area. Pivotal to the scheme is a link, which includes a secured lightwell/courtyard used to ventilate the home. “This draws fresh air through the middle of the plan,” says Martin.
Although the family didn’t get a super sized house, they received considerably more for their budget. The room sized front courtyard also meant the back garden could be given over entirely to the children, allowing them to kick a ball, jump on the trampoline or simply be with their friends. The front outdoor space, complete with barbeque, then becomes more of an outdoor entertaining area. The vegetable patch, located in the front garden, is another offering that makes this house feel part of a community.
Fairfield House by MRTN Architects
www.mrtn.com.au | 03 9329 4145
By Stephen Crafti
Photography by Peter Bennetts