Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

I visited One Room Tower as the sun sank low with the sounds of kookaburras and people returning home from work and school.

As an ex-location scout, architecture tragic and long-time local hardened to the nuances of Brisbane’s sub-tropical climate I immediately wanted to know, “how is THAT western sun affecting the site?”  If you’ve lived any time in Brisbane, this question is front of mind.

And so, with this initial inquiry so much is revealed about the thought and process that has gone into the unique placement and design of the home.  Prior to the addition of the 9.5m “tower”, the block accommodated the typical small Queenslander and a large backyard that was at the mercy of the sun from about 11am until dark.  With small children, owners Silvia and Antony said the yard was useless for half of the day due to the sun’s onslaught. The addition, a 6x6m box rotated 15 degrees, has impeded the afternoon sun’s attack on the original house and the new western wall protects the environment of the new space.

The rotation creates “borrowed views” of surrounding backyards and the streetscape, and creates triangular pockets of yard space. Now there is a cooler original home, a protected new space, and shady pockets to play and mingle.

Most noticeable about the new section of the dwelling is that the design team (Architects Paul Hotston and Yohei Omura of Phorm architecture + design with Silvia Micheli and Antony Moulis) has purposefully not been prescriptive with its function.  This form of cultural sustainability means that the future story of this space could include a shop, a workshop, an office, a studio, a bike repair outlet, a home-away-from-home for a young adult or a community centre.  This is a version of sustainability not often considered – that by building for open-ended use we extend the life of a building and all of the resources within it.

Image: John Gollings

The owners Silvia and Antony have been delighted to observe the reactions of passers-by as they come across this new addition.  There are exclamations of satisfied surprise, reconsideration of what is possible and simple joy.  This is because Phorm architecture + design with Silvia Micheli and Antony Moulis have played devil’s advocate in reaction to the usual “raise and build under” approach to capitalizing on inner city Queenslanders. Instead the original Queenslander has been left as-is at the front of the block and the new tower component has been spun into the backyard.  The home’s tilt has set its own posture to the street – creating texture and a surprise element to what is usually a very flat street frontage.

The surprise element continues as you enter the home because you are immediately taken by the spacious, generous volume of the interior.  The vault like ceilings, generous picture windows and large sliding openings mean that even on a hot summer day the space is cool and breezy.  No air con. required here! Silvia calls it “verandah living”, something Queenslanders can relate to.

The project has been influenced by many factors, including the micro context of Asia Pacific design.  They reference Japanese homes in crowed cities that are built on a vertical plane on tight sites.  They are extremely pleased with how this response has given the original Queenslander on the site permission to remain unaffected; to persist.  This concession is again a nod to cultural sustainability and the fragile nature of our unique Qld. homes.

Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

The One Room Tower has just won Brisbane’s “House of the Year” AIA Award.

“The One Room Tower is an expertly crafted stand-alone extension to an existing Queenslander, acknowledging the backyard as a ‘site within a site’.”

(part of AIA jury statement)

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