131130 Alfred Crescent 0388
An external courtyard is a stylish replacement for a backyard, while still providing ample space for the kids to play

Grand Designs Australia: Cubomania Creation


A commitment to sustainability led these homeowners to adapt and reuse parts of their existing Victorian heritage-listed house, which were just too precious to discard

HOUSE Cubomania Creation

LOCATION Fitzroy North, Victoria


DATE COMPLETED September 2013

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the saying goes. And for these homeowners, their charming yet old and dilapidated double-storey heritage-listed house in Melbourne’s Fitzroy North was filled with “treasures”. Their dark and musty house had unsafe connections between floors and no connection to the rear yard. However, rather than demolish the house and forget its history, this family had other ideas when it came time to building their new home — a sustainable, high-end architectural design, which would maximise the permissible building envelope and comfortably accommodate the young couple, their two kids
and transient extended family and friends.

“The owners were committed to sustainability, including the adaptation and reuse (upcycling) of artefacts that couldn’t be retained during demolition and construction,” says design and project architect Emma Young of PHOOEY Architects.
“We were inspired by the cultural memory of the existing building, which was made up of beautiful elements from its original Victorian era and several subsequent renovations. Elements that would otherwise have been discarded were upcycled in interesting ways and are now represented as part of the design metabolism.”
The project applied the surrealist technique of Cubomania to catalogue, reuse and reinvent the demolished building’s materials. This technique is evident in the external brickwork, garden and carefully detailed internal spaces.
Cubomania and upcycling (adaptation and reuse) techniques minimise embodied energy by balancing the quantity of demolished materials against the quantity of materials brought in to replace them. The intention was to reassemble and use the old materials in ways that did not disguise their original purpose. It therefore provides an accessible display of innovative upcycling and inspires the imaginations of observers.

The body of work undertaken by PHOOEY Architects addressed an open-plan kitchen/family/dining room, living room, entry foyer/stairs with ancillary room-sized landings, two kids’ bedrooms, a shared bathroom, master bedroom with walk-in robe and ensuite, study, laundry, powder room, habitable basement (guest quarters) with ensuite and storage room and an external courtyard with integrated bench seats, barbecue and bike shed.

Authority constraints determined the building’s footprint and setbacks, which were practicably maximised. The dysfunctional rear portions of the house were replaced and detailed to contrast against the old parts of the home, with modern square-set cornices, full-height doors, steel-framed windows, black steel reveals and trims, shadowline skirtings and architraves.

Internally, a modern and bright black-and-white scheme was chosen to create a clean and simple background for the feature design elements. The significant heritage parts of the house including fireplaces, skirtings, architraves, hessian-clad walls and gargoyle-clad archways remain and were restored accordingly.

Many salvaged elements were upcycled in unexpected ways into the new building. While beautiful, the original staircase was no longer compliant or safe and wasn’t well positioned to suit the client’s desired layout. However, rather than discard it, they salvaged and upcycled it to create a striking feature chandelier, which is suspended over the new staircase and adjacent to the new recycled window wall/light well. The leftover stair balustrades were then upcycled into a loft bed with integrated storage in a new kid’s bedroom.

The basement was as large as structurally achievable, while still providing a waterproof envelope, natural light and air to enable its habitability. The new three-storey light well, made from single-glazed windows salvaged prior to demolition, delivers sunlight into the centre of the house and provides natural light and air to the new basement. It is naturally ventilated via south-facing double-glazed louvres and becomes a thermal chimney in summer. Together, the chandelier and light well act as the new heart of the house, providing a welcoming entry foyer with a feature spiral stair and enabling comfortable access to all levels as well as solar penetration and stack ventilation. Ancillary landings are large enough to offer actual room functions, providing flexible and beautiful light- and air-filled spaces in which to work, play or relax.

Meanwhile, metal security doors became external privacy and sun-shading devices, and slate roof tiles transformed into windowsills and feature elements in the external facade.

The new materials that were utilised are resilient — the bricks are recycled, the timbers are recycled hardwoods and external timbers are limited to ease future maintenance. All spaces were carefully designed to enable multiple furniture layouts and uses and therefore avoid building obsolescence.

The house also employs many less-obvious sustainable techniques including passive solar and shading, active solar equipment, improved thermal envelope, increased light and air infusion, hot water via a grid-connected solar power system, the capture and reuse of roof water and low-energy consumption.

The rear of the house is protected in summer by the overhanging upper floor and a motorised retractable awning. In winter, the sun penetrates living areas, warming the floor slab. Windows and doors are positioned to enable effective cross-breezes and the design provides comfortable living with year-round low energy use.

The new windows are double glazed and the existing windows were either salvaged for reuse in the new light well or (where retained) were retro double glazed. Thermal and acoustic insulation techniques were implemented to improve performance in both new and old areas.

The completed home has not only resulted in an excellent example of commitment to sustainability, but a friendship between client and architect. “The owners have become wonderful friends of ours, and we attribute the quality of the delivered project to the trust and commitment generated as part of this friendship,” says Emma. “We live nearby, so I could drop in to site and resolve items with the builder as required, which was sometimes on a daily basis. Despite it being fully designed and documented prior, I spent several days on-site untangling cables for the chandelier and resolving the set-out with the builder. We agreed it was important to get it right and are delighted by the outcome.”

Photography by Peter Bennetts