Compact, concrete living birdseye

REAL HOME: A compact, concrete home design


An ode to a hip-hop-influenced world, this compact concrete home design in Melbourne places graffiti firmly in the artistic and architectural spectrum.

HERO Compact, concrete letters

Compact, concrete stairs

Compact, concrete living

Compact, concrete living birdseye

Compact, concrete kitchen

Compact, concrete fireplace

Etched across the front of this project is the word HIVE in Wild Style graffiti. Not seen on your average homely façade, this stamp into the precast concrete of the exterior stands out with its brazen statement, challenging preconceptions of art, architecture and the world of graffiti.

“An urban street is celebrated through the making permanent of ephemeral art,” says Zvi Belling of ITN Architects, architect, homeowner and resident of this unusual creation found in Melbourne. Graffiti isn’t something we would usually associate with permanence and this is an issue that Zvi and his neighbour — a well-respected, old-school graffiti artist who goes by the name of Prowla — wanted to address.

The site was specifically selected for a project like this, and the ideas found within have been slowly developed over years and years through previous competitions, publications and collaborations with street artists. The problem often encountered with graffiti art is the perception society often has towards it. It carries a stigma associated with gangs, street crime and youth vandalism that’s sometimes well deserved. Yet it is sad that graffiti and vandalism are tarred with the same brush, when at other times graffiti can be a rich, cultural form of expression.

Zvi and Prowla have addressed this problem beautifully through their creation. In making graffiti a permanent attribute of this building, it becomes strong and enduring like a sculpture rather than something temporary to be painted over or scrubbed off the side of a building.

This bold statement didn’t come without resistance, though. Situated in an exclusive inner-city residential suburb, it was a concept the surrounding neighbours struggled with. “There are inherent tensions,” explains Zvi, “but these tensions are resolving over time as respect for the building spreads within the graffiti community and the local residents begin to claim ownership of their new street art.”

The 4m high, 14-tonne load that forms the facade is constructed in concrete and, while the initial plans spoke of masonry, in the end concrete was chosen for the entire structure, as an extension of the graffiti lettering. These letters act as structural support for the rest of the building, carrying the weight of the four storeys above them. Furthermore, they impact on the interior of the home by allowing interesting views and added intrigue where natural light is concerned.

“The concrete relief façade containing shapes such as letters, arrows, swooshes and drips has been slotted into the exposed brickwork shell of an old Carlton tailor shop,” says Zvi. “It was important for the street art, graffiti in this case, to be essential to the experience of the building, inside and out.”

The manner in which the home is represented externally flows through to the interior, determining the shapes, patterns and overall design and creating an almost sci-fi-like space. “The outward presentation of robust public art fortifies the internal spaces into a calm refuge that is adorned with street art frames and canvases,” explains Zvi. “The notion of hive as home has been extracted from the façade and reappears through the fitout in various guises.”

Geometrics form an integral part of this, representing not only the art style that exists outside but also the concept of the beehive, after which the apartment is named. The interior is also clever in the way it functions, with concealed sliding panels revealing louvred ports for cross-ventilating habitable rooms, and unusual door arrangements that minimise temperature exchange between zones. There are solar panels positioned on the roof and a water storage tank below the carpark area.

Being the architect’s home, the space allows for a level of creativity and experimentation. It is a completely new and unique concept that seems to teeter provocatively on the line between a world of futuristic sci-fi and down-to-earth hip-hop-influenced street life. Whichever way you look at it, though, it challenges perceptions and firmly places graffiti on the map, or canvas if you like.

By Alexandra Longstaff
Photography by Patrick Rodriquez & Zvi Belling
From Grand Designs Australia magazine Vol. 2 No. 2