Nic Agius from Nicholas Agius Architects spoke to Open Journal about the considerations of modifying one of Best Overend’s Cairo Apartments in Carlton, on how can functional adaptable spaces be achieved regardless of size and how older buildings can be sensitively adapted to suit new living uses and purposes.
According to Nic:
Achieving a functional and adaptable space in 23sqm is no easy task, even with the best intentions it’s east to get lost and consider propositions that overburden the space and alienate you from the most fundamental domestic tasks.
With my Cairo studio renovation I first considered the likelihood that any major modifications was going to impact the way I approached day to day tasks like cooking, cleaning, relaxing and sleeping. The challenge of the design was how to modify for maximum effect without causing major disruption as to how I used the space.
A certain amount of thought was afforded to going over how I currently did things and what I would be willing to accommodate in a new configuration. It’s easy when designing small spaces to be seduced by tricks or mechanisms that you think will create ease and flexibility when, in reality they are likely to become frustrating to engage with on a day to day basis.
When designing for this small space it helped to define at the outset some key characteristics. The characteristics generated questions that led to principles which I could design toward. They became the metric to measure each iteration of the design against.
- Adaptable – how can I be tricky but not too tricky?
- Generous – how can I create generosity in such a small space?
- Reverent – how can the proposition reinforce the strengths of the existing space?
Guided by this dialog, I approached the seemingly absurd notion of adding rooms to the tiny plan. Reconsidering the task of walls and doors permitted these additions. Privacy now existed where two people can operate independent from one another. The bed nook in the former kitchen now allows for a dedicated living space where dinner parties can occur without having to sit on the bed. The door to the bedroom acts as a bookshelf on one side and a kitchen pantry on the other. The shower screen became an entire glazed wall allowing one to shower while the other dresses. Importantly these modifications maintain a familiar approach to how one operates them.
The internal spaces of the Cairo apartments are already high quality. Generous ceilings, north orientation and good light penetration and cross ventilation, rendered brickwork walls and coved ceiling cornices. All these existing qualities I strived to maintain, I assessed each design option against them. Will this option assist or hinder cross ventilation? Will I lose natural light by placing a wall here? Can I put something ambitious and characterful in here without suppressing the qualities I already enjoy? How can I extend or celebrate those qualities?
The task of design is as much about asking questions as it is answering them. Equally as important is a willingness to re‐assess and modify our expectations beyond what we already understand. Both are key ingredients that enable considered and effective design regardless of size.