Tower House

Alphington / Australia / 2014

89 Love 9,849 Visits Published

S+P and their 8 year old twin sons asked for a home “for community, art and nature to
come together”. We designed them a village.
Tower House is a renovation and extension to a weatherboard home in Alphington, Victoria,
Australia. We restored the original, where we have two kids’ rooms, a bathroom and
living spaces. A studio, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining occupy the new part of the
house. Tower House is the result of endless conversations with a trusting, enthusiastic,
patient and encouraging client.
Mum, dad and twin boys live at Tower House. The family have keen interests in the environment,
outdoor recreation and the arts. We first met to discuss Tower House just days
before a federal election. Fear that in two days we would have a new, particularly nasty,
negative and destructive Prime Minister loomed heavily in the air. Our discussion on that
first day was not about kitchens and bathrooms. Our discussions were about life, art, politics,
charity, the universe and everything. We knew we had a great client on that first day.
The words S+P used were carefully considered. Nurturing, stimulating, gallery, inspiring,
delightful, both social and private, introverted and extroverted, legacy, responsibility, character,
engaging, discourse and community. In their home S+P wanted the story to be
about more than them. S+P wanted the story to include us. All of us.
Tower House is near parkland and the Yarra River, with views to the Amcor chimney
stacks. Tower House is bound by two roads. One is a leafy post-war suburban street. The
other, which faces onto backyards, feels like a country road. With the exception of a few
new homes the context is small, humble weatherboard and brick abodes. A chunk of large
contemporary architecture would be an imposition in this context.
Tower House is the result of a vast number of concurrent discussions about issues far
broader than the home itself. Though the brief was not small, our proposition was to create
a series of small structures of a scale and texture that did not dominate its context. Tower
House is about a lot of things. Here are our highlights:
The twins’ sketches
During an early design meeting we handed the twin boys paper and pencils and asked
them to quietly entertain themselves while the adults spoke about ‘more important things’.
After discussing the complexity of designing a home, and the various possibilities, we had
all found ourselves deep down the rabbit hole, confused, lost and tired. We looked over to
the boys to discover that they were not drawing cars, soldiers or dragons. Instead they had
drawn their house. With modest confidence they slid their simple sketches, complete with
notations, to me saying in unison “there you go”. Their sketches distilled a lot of ideas.
They had firmly pushed the boat off the shore and we were on our way.
Home as village
As homes increase in size they increasingly appear as hostile monoliths. When a home is
extended, often the monolith crashes into the original. The later looking like an alien cancerous
growth on the former. Tower House is anti-monolith. Tower House is village externally
and a home internally. The house defies logic as the exterior appears to be a series
of small structures, while internally the spaces and functions are large and connected. Like
the Tardis, it’s small on the outside and large internally.

Missing No.5
The mysterious case of the missing No.5. There is no No.5 in this street, which is odd.
No.3 and No.7 sit side by side and no one can explain why No.5 was omitted. Tower
House finds a small gap between 3 and 7 to build a new structure. It’s not No.5. The new
tower fills the numerical gap. But the mystery remains.
5th elevation
When designing the Sydney Opera House Utzon spoke of the fifth facade, knowing that
the roof will be the part of the building that dominates the view from the Harbour Bridge
and the tall buildings nearby. The street front is no longer the public face of our buildings.
Google Earth has made the roof the public face of our buildings, accessible to anyone at
anytime. We can now easily see all of the mess that has been hidden on the rooftop. What
was once hidden is now fully displayed. With this in mind we deliberately designed Tower
House so that it looked beautiful from the sky and from Google Earth.
It’s all about community.
Increasingly our houses are overly concerned with privacy. Fences are getting higher and
we are turning our backs to our neighbours. It’s starting to look less like house and garden
and more like compound and security. What’s happening to neighbourhood and community?
Tower House can be both. The front yard is now a communal vegetable patch. Neighbours
are invited to help themselves and, if they wish, do a little gardening from time to
time. The rest of the garden has a high fence around it, however you can see through the
fence and, importantly the fences can be left open wide. With streets on both sides of
Tower House neighbours can use the garden as a short cut and grab a few veggies on the
way through. With the gates wide open the line between public and private starts to get
The Net
Australia is wide and flat. As a result our homes are wide and flat. Our HOUSE House project
explored the idea of creating a vertical home, in contrast to the typical Australian
home. The boy’s studio pushes this idea further. It is a wholly vertical space with a bookshelf
running from floor to ceiling. The boys desks are at the base of the studio, where they
can studiously work. Hanging within this tall space is a net where the boys can read, and
contemplate with a view to the street and a view to the backyard. The boys study is designed
to inspire the boys as they grow and learn.
Her library.
S’ library is a place of thought and contemplation. Slightly submerged, the desk is almost
buried in the garden. Lined with dark spotted gum the library has an age and a wisdom
that is in contrast to the playful contemplation of the boys study.
His spot.
P has a sneaky spot in the roof space above the kitchen. Lined in synthetic grass with
nothing more than a banana lounge and a book P’s spot it a hideaway within the centre of
the house.
Tower House is a long-term family home. The boys will be adults when (if) they leave. The
house can easily adapt from being a shared family home to being two separate zones with
distinct entries. Within the original house we have hidden sliding panels which allow the
large shared rooms to be divided into small. A variety of different activities can take place,
whether shared or private. It’s the best of both worlds.

Like all of our buildings, sustainability is at the core of Tower House. Rather than
simply extruding the existing structure we have run the new form along the southern
boundary so that it is soaked with sunlight. The openings and windows have
been designed to optimise passive solar gain, thereby drastically reducing demands on mechanical heating and cooling. All windows are double glazed. White roofs drastically
reduce urban heat sink and heat transfer internally. Need for air-conditioning is eliminated
through active management of shade, and flow through ventilation. Water tanks have
their place as they do on all of our projects. High performance insulation is everywhere,
even in the walls of the original house.

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    S+P and their 8 year old twin sons asked for a home “for community, art and nature tocome together”. We designed them a village.WHAT?Tower House is a renovation and extension to a weatherboard home in Alphington, Victoria,Australia. We restored the original, where we have two kids’ rooms, a bathroom andliving spaces. A studio, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining occupy the new part of thehouse. Tower House is the result of endless conversations with a trusting,...

    Project details
    • Year 2014
    • Work finished in 2014
    • Contractor Overend Constructions -
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Single-family residence
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