Church House
Church House

The Grand Designs Australia Church House


Transforming Brisbane’s heritage-listed Church of Transfiguration into a comfortable hillside home took planning, prayers and plenty of hard work

Blessed with sweeping city views, the elevated parcel of land was awash with religious revelry in 1924 when the former Anglican Church was erected in the centre of the sacred site. Retired from service since 2009, the Church possessed a number of additions that had been tacked on in the 1980s and ‘90s. These were removed to make way for the new residence, which was to serve as the family home for owner-builder Glen Williams and his wife Gabrielle. In need of a house that could grow and change with their active young kids, they specified an open-plan ground floor living space
with connected outdoor living zones as their top priority.

The church’s orientation proved challenging. Situated on the traditional religious east-west axis, it was tricky to capitalise on the outlook without adversely affecting the home’s passive performance. Careful spatial planning was implemented to solve the issue. “The use of thermal massing and opportunities to frame vistas of the church and CBD may have been lost if responding to a more desirable orientation,” architect David Hansford explains. “The home incorporates elements of subtropical design and emphasises a connection to the natural and built context of the site.”
The responsive extension is reverent in its context, scale and materiality. Connecting the old structure with the new building is a dark zinc form. Architectural voids were used internally to link the ground and upper floors and promote inter-level interaction. “The layout of the extension generates social hubs as well as private retreats, creating a home that can grow with the family,” David explains.

Numerous elements of the design were only possible through collaborative problem solving by the consultant team, such as suspending the upper-floor concrete slab from the steel-framed roof. This stroke of genius has created an 8m cantilevered mezzanine floor that seems to float above the ground level. “By hanging the second floor from the roof structure we were able to allow unobstructed sight lines not only from the rear to the front of the block and across the pool to the mountains beyond, but also from the kitchen across the dining area to the church’s exterior,” explains Georgia Cannon, interior designer.

With kids and pets in mind, the five-bedroom, three-bathroom abode has incorporated robust, sturdy finishes without compromising on glamour. “One of the key challenges when selecting finishes was to resolve the relationship between the traditional, red-brick fabric of the church with the metal-wrapped glass and concrete shell of the new extension,” Georgia points out.

“We deliberately selected a modern brick profile to clad the functional zone on the lower level as a subtle reference to the history of the original building, while the rest of the finishes were kept pared back so as not to compete with the bricks.” Touches of timber and brass work to warm and soften the palette.

The all-important wet areas of the home count functional, elegant joinery as their main drawcard. Water harvesting and photovoltaic solar power join comprehensive shading elements to keep the house comfortable and efficient without breaking the bank or harming Mother Nature.

Integrated landscaping boosts the indoor/outdoor connection, pandering to the energetic nature of the client’s family. Proof of their athleticism is the tennis court and pool.

An adventurous addition that is simultaneously sympathetic to its heritage roots is quite an achievement, and one that deserves the title of “miracle”. We’d go so far as to call it Heaven on the Hillside.

Originally in Grand Designs Australia Magazine Volume 8 Issue 2