Inner city: Adjusting to a different light

Nov 20, 2018 Architecture

People moving to the inner city often come with expectations from their suburban homes: unimpeded green views, natural light flooding all rooms and a sense of space. However, many inner-city homes often take the form of terraces, with party walls rather than driveways separating them.

“You need to see how people live in Paris, with shared internal courtyards. There, you tend to wave at neighbours from living rooms opposite,” says architect Peter Knights, co-director of Taylor Knights Architects. “If privacy is required, blinds or curtains are simply drawn,” he adds.

Knights doesn’t try to replicate the Paris experience for his clients, but he is mindful that living in inner-city areas requires a different mindset. For a semi-detached Edwardian home in East St Kilda, there are attached homes on either side. So to allow greater natural light to enter this home, the architects inverted the usual floor plan and placed bedrooms, including the main bedroom and ensuite, on the ground level, with an open plan kitchen, dining and living area on the first floor located within the new contemporary wing.

Photo credit: Fraser Marsden

A large void separates the period home from the new wing, allowing natural light to fill the entire living area. A perforated steel bridge connecting the two also increases the amount of natural light in the lower levels. Taylor Knights Architects also included five skylights on the first floor, located to the south, to bring additional light into this home.

Photo credit: Fraser Marsden

Accepting the light limitations of inner city living

The architects are also currently working on a two-storey Victorian terrace in Fitzroy which is also hemmed in by neighbouring homes. They kept the ‘heritage bones’ of the house and took a similar approach to that taken with the East St Kilda project, reversing the traditional floor plan. For the Fitzroy house, the design also includes a rooftop terrace. One of the ways in which light was used was modifying an existing gable to the north, as well as including highlight celestial windows to attract the northern light into the kitchen and open plan living areas. “One of the main problems with homes in the inner city is bringing natural light into what are generally dark and narrow corridors,” says Knights.

For Knights and his team, living in the inner city not only means accepting limitations, but understanding that sight lines may often need to be reduced. “People need to think about living differently in the inner city and accepting that neighbours will be considerably closer than the suburban experience. But we need to address the urban sprawl and make these adjustments,” says Knights.

Architect Nick Braun, a director of Sibling Architecture, is working on the final touches to a house in North Carlton. As there are neighbours on either side, sharing party walls, Sibling Architecture included a large zigzag-shaped skylight to illuminate the core of the two-storey Victorian terrace. “’We needed to rework the roof to get light into the open plan living spaces on the first floor,” says Braun, who also included a lightwell on the home’s southern elevation to allow light to filter into one of the children’s bedrooms and a bathroom located at ground level. “We found it just wasn’t possible to get natural light into the home in the traditional way, by relying on inserting large picture windows,” says Braun.

According to Braun, people need to be realistic about living in the inner city, with certain compromises required. “Having a four-bedroom house with three bathrooms simply isn’t possible with many of these inner-city sites. You need to adjust your expectations in terms of size, as well as privacy,” says Braun, who also sees the importance of connecting with communities in the inner areas. “You can still maintain a certain level of privacy, but you need to think quite differently and not feel overwhelmed by a neighbour’s close proximity,” he adds.

Photo credit: Christine Francis

Taylor Knights Architects can be contacted on 9417 6862
Sibling Architecture can be reached on 9662 1357

About the Author: Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990’s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.

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