It always takes a bit of time to write a post about the work of Andrew Maynard, the hot Australian architect. There is always something subversive about his work, whether he is driving trucks through the zoning bylaws or making sly architectural jokes. His latest, the Moor Street house in Fitzroy, is instructive.
These were modest houses, under fifteen feet wide, built on an English workers housing model. Most have messy lean-to additions added to the rear. Andrew writes:
These lean-tos create a mesh of detailed and varying volumes, in stark contrast to the simplicity of the street front. When building in the rear of a property in this context, facing onto the laneway, one is acutely aware of the smallness and texture of the existing built form. Within this context the burden is on the designer is to respond to the assemblage of small volumes while also maximising the potentials of the owners’ brief.
In the age before exhaust fans and air conditioning, it was often required that windows be maintained even as additions are stuck on; that's why so many houses end up L shaped or in this case, have an air shaft in the middle. Most designers today would put a big box on the back of the house; it is so narrow that they don't want to give up the width and maintain a hole in the middle of the house. Not Andrew. Just as most of the lean-to additions were built up over the years from smaller elements, he builds this one as "an accumulation of small objects."
As Fitzroy has gentrified we have seen renewal take place in unsympathetic ways. There are numerous examples of this assemblage of dark brick and weatherboard being replaced with large contemporary objects that dominate its context. The tactic at Moor Street was to maximise the interior functions and available space, while also responding to the context by creating a single building out of three small objects rather than a single contemporary monolith.
The tired lean-to which housed the kitchen, bathroom, dining and laundry were removed. These functions were relocated and updated along with the addition of a master bedroom over. The original brick terrace was retained, tidied and brought back to life.
In the centre of the original house was a small light well containing a beautiful, yet constrained, Japanese maple tree. The family often found themselves conversing through this lightwell. Conversations took place, through the maple, from upstairs bedroom to kitchen opposite, to study space and even the bathroom.
The maple was retained and the lightwell expanded and surrounded in glass, bringing the tree into the living spaces. The conversations between spaces and levels, through the maple, are better and easier than ever.
The separate boxes on the upper level contain the master bedroom. This space is surrounded by the canopy of the maple to the south and the canopy of a large gum tree to the north, making the master bedroom feel much like a treehouse. Through the gum’s canopy are views over Fitzroy, revealing the detailed assemblage of the brick and weatherboard lean-tos of the surrounding workers’ cottages and small terraces.
As always with Maynard's work, there is careful consideration of sun angles, cross-ventilation and visual connections.
The existing fabric is maintained and repaired, the addition is treated as a separate element.
Maynard manages to respect the existing house while adding a very contemporary and functional addition that just glows. He blends humor, intelligence and design skill in a way that I think is unmatched. Anywhere.
LOTS more, because Andrew Maynard is also better at sharing information about his work than just about any other architect, at Andrew Maynard Architects