The Townhouse – transitioning from the family home
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Australians started to think in earnest about apartment living, following on the heels of Europeans, who had done so for centuries. High-rise apartments are now integral to the urban fabric, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.
While apartments continue to forge ahead, albeit at a slightly slower rate, there has recently been a slight shift to townhouses, both in the inner city and middle-distance suburbs. “With townhouses, there’s a greater sense of identity, as well as a sense of ownership, given that many come with their own title,” says architect Andrew Piva, a director of b.e. Architecture. “Townhouses also allow you to provide a few more design options, with each one being slightly different,” he adds.
b.e. Architecture cites their two townhouses in Windsor, Melbourne, as having distinct characters. The one at the front, a single-fronted Victorian cottage adjacent to a laneway, was completely reworked. The original front rooms were retained, now used as a main bedroom and a second bedroom/study. And to the rear, via a glazed link, is a new brick extension comprising the open plan kitchen and living areas. Two additional bedrooms and a bathroom are found at the top of the stairs. “We wanted to create a courtyard-style garden linking the past and present to provide some privacy. It was also a means of bringing in the northern light,” says Piva. The architects used a Daniel Robertson brick for the extension of the Victorian cottage, as well as for the new detached two-storey townhouse directly behind.
Accessed from the laneway, the rear townhouse, approximately 225 square metres in area, features generous open plan kitchen and living areas at ground level, with three bedrooms on the first floor. And rather than walking down a shared driveway, the second townhouse is accessed via the laneway and opening the front gate reveals a lush garden setting. “We saw this development as a ‘village’ of buildings,” says Piva, pointing out the brick forms interspersed by black-stained paling fences and black steel detailing, such as garage doors. “Once you’re in your own plot, you feel as though it’s a free-standing detached house,” he adds.
Architect John Mecuri, director of Of Diverse Research/ODR Architects, has seen an increased demand for townhouses, both in the inner city and in the suburbs. Mecuri recently presented a scheme in Heidelberg that initially started out as an apartment development. However, his client, a developer, decided to switch to townhouses. “There are certainly less planning issues when you build townhouses rather than apartments,” says Mercuri, citing heights and setbacks as causing some concern with neighbours. But he also sees a growing trend to people wanting their own ‘patch of dirt’.
Mercuri designed three townhouses on a modest site in Abbotsford. Formerly a house on a corner site of 240 square metres, it is now three townhouses. “It’s quite an eclectic area,” says Mercuri, pointing out the mixture of 1960s walk-up flats and Victorian cottages. There’s also the start of a number of commercial and light industrial buildings on nearby Johnston Street. Mercuri also took his inspiration from the graphic street signage and back-and-white traffic barriers at the end of the street.
The three townhouses are relatively compact, each one approximately 90 square metres in area. Spread over three levels, there are city views from the rooftop garden terrace on the third and top level. At ground level are two bedrooms and a study, and on the first floor, to benefit from the light, are the open plan kitchen, dining and living areas, leading to a balcony. Simply detailed with polished concrete and timber floors, plastered walls are angled to ensure for maximum sunlight.
ODR Architects also clad the irregular-shaped townhouses with perforated steel to diffuse the western sunlight and offer privacy. In addition to the roof terraces, each of the Abbotsford townhouses has a small garden, but this is a long way from the suburban backyard. “People wanting to scale down aren’t necessarily prepared to go from a large home in the suburbs to a small apartment. The townhouse offers an important transition, where there’s still a garden at your back door,” adds Mercuri.
b.e. Architecture can be contacted on 9529 6433
ODR Architects can be contacted on 9023 9330
About the Author: Stephen Crafti
Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990s 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.