Austin Maynard's Latest Is a Not So Big Transparent Jewel

credit: Austin Maynard Architects

Years ago we declared Andrew Maynard our Best of Green Young Architect; he's aged a bit and might not even qualify anymore if we still ran the Best of Green program. However his work continues to be some of the most interesting and exciting that we have shown on TreeHugger. I still have not wrapped my brain around his office name change to Austin Maynard, and keep calling it Austin Powers. But they don't care, writing:

We have changed our name. People say that we shouldn’t be messing with our ‘brand’, as it’s ‘bad business’ to do so. Perhaps they are correct, but we are not interested in business. We are interested in life, happiness, fun, family and reward for effort.
They may be growing up but still have that sense of fun, a willingness to ignore convention (and zoning regulations and building codes when they want to play with them). And now they have completed what they call "THAT" house. Last year I did a lecture for my students at Ryerson University School of Interior Design on Andrew's work and practice; here's a sort of Pecha Kucha slideshow of it.
credit: Tess Kelly

Now let's get this over with first, THAT house is not THAT small at 255 m2 (2745 SF). But in the suburban Australian context, it is apparently modest. The architects explain:

Let’s be clear, THAT House is not a small home. It’s not a solution, nor ‘new prototype’ for Australian housing. However within its context THAT House is defiant and resistant. THAT house is a conscious effort to build a home that is almost half the floor area of its neighbours, yet without compromise of spatial types, functions and quality. The anxiety of not having enough, or leaving something out that you may need later, is a real fear. However with good design and planning, modest size homes are not compromising. In fact, due to their access to the garden and the sophisticated nature of their internal spaces, well designed smaller homes are far superior to their bulky, poorly-considered neighbours.
credit: Austin Maynard Architects

In fact, when you look at the ground floor plan it looks quite large, with two lounges, a separate dining room and a study. The plan is also quite instructive; Where in the last house of Austin Maynard that we showed, where I thought the circulation was totally nuts, here it is clear as can be, an axis straight as an arrow through the heart of it. The other thing I love about their work is how hard it is to actually determine what is inside and what is out; they always blend together so beautifully, and those of us how live in a climate where we go from mosquitoes to winter are envious.

credit: Tess Kelly

For example: A view to the rear. The corridor axis continues to the left, and when the doors are open to the rear you see four different material changes in the floor that make it hard to tell exactly where the change takes place from inside to out.

credit: Austin Maynard Architects

In most houses, the second floor is as big as the ground floor. (it certainly is in the neighbor's house) But here, the architects just make it what it needs to be, and then start playing with the forms.

credit: Austin Maynard Architects

The upper level is just what is needed, far smaller than the lower, with three modest bedrooms, two baths. Because:

We were asked to provide the family with ‘just the right amount of space’. By creating large openings and generous connections to the garden we aimed to make this modest-sized house feel abundant and broad. The result is a home that is almost half the size of its neighbours without compromising liveability.
credit: Tess Kelly

As noted earlier, the plan is broken up into distinct zones. This is not standard practice among modern architects;

Running through most of our projects is the concept of being alone, together. In its simplest terms, we aim to have secluded spaces within shared spaces. We’re not fans of open-plan living. We also avoid completely enclosing rooms or functions. We try to make the connection of each space adaptable and loose. The ground floor of THAT House is ostensibly open, however the arrangement of spaces allows the owners to be together, or secluded, or any level of engagement in between.
credit: Tess Kelly
For example, someone could be quietly reading in the study, whilst another family member watches cartoons in the sitting space, and two others are discussing football at the dining table. They are within a large, shared area, however it is not a noisy open plan, nor is it a series of enclosed cells. THAT House enables the residents to be as engaged or as removed from the family as much as they wish, at any time.
credit: Tess Kelly
If your spaces can adapt to suit your mood, the weather, time of day and usage, then you don’t need numerous rooms. Adaptable, complex areas allow us to make the most of our space, while keeping our homes modest in size and enabling us to have large, well-connected outdoor spaces and gardens.
Stairs made out of bent steel mesh seem to be a trademark now; first seen in the (of course, white) Black House, they are used again here.
credit: Tess Kelly

The kitchen certainly isn't small. In almost all the firm's houses, the kitchens are bright and generous, and usually run right out the door into the backyard. This one is actually restrained and appears to run into an interior courtyard; you walk through a lounge to get to the rear.

credit: Tess Kelly

And a lovely rear yard it is, with pool, lounge, and some buried environmental features:

Like all of our buildings, sustainability is at the core of THAT House. We have optimised passive solar gain into all north facing windows. All windows are double-glazed. We have no glazing on western facades and limited glass on the eastern facades. White roofs drastically reduce urban heat sink and heat transfer internally. High performance insulation is everywhere. Along with active management of shade, and passive ventilation demands on mechanical heating and cooling are drastically reduced. A large water tank has been buried within the rear yard. All roof water is captured and reused to flush toilets and water the garden. Where possible we have sourced local trades, materials and fittings. Solar panels with micro-inverters cover the new roof.
credit: Tess Kelly

That is a lot of glass and some might question whether it's not too much, both from a privacy and a solar gain point of view. But there's reason here.

Like many of our wonderful clients, the owners of THAT House are keen to open up to the community rather than permanently hiding or fortifying themselves. As Australian homes and culture become increasingly inward looking and protective, AMA is reacting against this trend. THAT House can open up to the outdoors, both private and public.
Fortunately they also have good blinds that pull up from the bottom.
credit: Tess Kelly

One can see how such marvellous transparency works in the evening here. And it doesn't look all that big, either; you can see right through it.

Large homes, and their associated sprawl, are highly problematic. Services and infrastructure, such as food, water, electricity, communications, health and education are stretched at great expense to the public, both financially and environmentally. Large, deep homes are less responsive to the climates of Australia’s cities. Therefore heating and cooling demands are radically increased. Large homes, and the subsequent sprawl, place significant demands on private car ownership and associated infrastructure, which is by far the least sustainable transport option. People who are unable to drive (the elderly, children, people with disabilities, etc) are often left isolated without reliable alternative transport options. Walking and riding become difficult, and often dangerous, in sprawl areas. In short, large homes are an environmental disaster for our cities, whilst also being a cultural/social disaster for our communities.
All true, except if a small house is on a large lot that can hold a large house, then all those arguments about density fall apart. But who cares, it's a beautiful, not so big transparent jewel. Lots more photos at Austin Maynard Architects