Austin Maynard's Union House Is Hiding in Plain Sight

The Australian architects build a new house out of CLT behind an old facade.

Union House, Melbourne, rear facade
Union House, Melbourne, rear facade.

Derek Swalwell

Treehugger has always loved the work of Australian architect Andrew Maynard and his firm Austin Maynard; they are not only talented designers but they also have a sense of humor and can be a bit subversive. (I reviewed many of his earlier works here.) Now they are at it again, this time using one of our favorite materials, Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) in the Union House in Melbourne.

(Click on vertically formatted images to enlarge them.)

Front Facade of house
Front Facade.

Derek Swalwell

It's a new house hiding behind the front wall of the old house on the site. The architects explain and justify this:

"Union is an entirely new house, which has retained, restored and incorporated the beloved original cottage facade, despite no heritage overlays or council requirement. Memory is important and heritage can be lots of fun. Demolishing a building and erasing history is far too easy. Union House is a place of memory, a home the family had lived in for years. Whilst it was a quaint cottage with a lovely facade, there was no stipulation to keep or protect it. Regardless, both the owners and ourselves wanted to retain a piece of the home’s former life.
CLT wall
CLT Wall.

Derek Swalwell

Austin Maynard says they are building out of CLT because of its sustainability.

"Carbon sequestering CLT was used to reduce time on site, minimise trades and accumulated layering within the building process. It comes from sustainably managed forests and is manufactured to exact measurements leading to very little waste and simpler construction. As a product is it not only durable but also entirely recyclable."

This is an excellent summary of its benefits, playing up more than just the sequestered carbon, which is controversial when compared to conventional wood framing. However there is no question at all that it is fast, it is durable and beautiful, and there is no need for layering drywall on top.

Green roof on Union House

Derek Swalwell

Other sustainability measures include a green roof, awnings, and a big water tank buried in the back yard.

Climbing wall and net

Derek Swalwell

Then the fun begins. The house has Austin Maynard's trademark perforated metal stair that you can see through, a climbing wall, and nets so for "this energetic family to clamber up walls without ever interacting with the stair."

Basement with ramp at rear

Derek Swalwell

Glass floor panels send light down to the basement, and one of them opens so that the kids can slide down the back wall.

View of kitchen and dining

Derek Swalwell

Andrew Maynard once described his unusual architectural practice:

"Through planning, management and the ability to turn away bad projects, I never allow myself to be in a position where I need to work after hours. I have manufactured this situation with great difficulty over the years and outside of the norms of architectural practice. To generate this work/life balance I have opted out of the overly competitive and patriarchal environment that contemporary architectural working culture demands. My practice fills a tiny niche and I recognize that it is not financially viable for the profession as a whole to do as I do."
View of perforated metal stair

Derek Swalwell

This is, I believe, why his work is so good and so much fun, because he is clearly enjoying every minute of it. Every architect can learn from Andrew and from the work of Austin Maynard, but also from how they work. More images at Austin Maynard Architects

looking down hall of house

Derek Swalwell