Home Architecture A home that breathes: House for BEES

A home that breathes: House for BEES

by Bastien Muris

Compact in size yet richly rewarding to the lives of its occupants, this new living pavilion in Sydney’s Mosman employs porous edges to allow family life to unfurl into the garden.

When designing a home, the architect-client relationship can be complex and delicate, but also immensely rewarding. Its success relies on an initial trust on both sides, a dedication from the architect to understanding the specific values of the client, and a collaborative process between both parties that identifies the shared values they wish to instil in the design. With no pre-defined or off-the-shelf outcome, a values-driven design process can make anything possible; therefore, that process is one of collectively finding the right thing to do, both for the client and for the site. By going on this journey together, the architect and the client have a shared responsibility for the outcome.

It’s clear that this is a process that Cat Downie and Dan North of Downie North have created with their client, Sarah, and her family when designing an extension to their home in Sydney’s Mosman. The modest addition creates a new area for living that is both comfortable and generous, and its title – House for BEES – is both a reference to the family’s names (Barney, Eddie, Evan and Sarah) as well as a tribute to the design intent of being focused on the garden and its hive for native bees.

The new extension’s angled roof is formed as a single, expressive plane that creates a generous volume, which drops down to reinforce a horizontal view of the garden through two walls of sliding doors. A strategically placed north-facing clerestory window brings direct winter sun into the living room to fall across joinery, accentuating the space created between the old and new roofs.

Downie North has deployed a classic indoors-outdoors design move that helps improve everyday activity by making the garden more visibly and physically connected to the home. Structural columns sit on the inside of the building line and allow its eastern and southern edges to disappear when the sliding doors are open. These operable facades combine with the composition of the angled roof to orientate you toward the existing vegetable garden. It’s a connection the clients are now enjoying more than before – Sarah describes how the new spaces encourage the kids to pick fresh herbs for dinner.

Within this threshold between inside and outside, the skill and thoughtfulness of the architects is evident. Large timber-framed glass doors slide away easily and completely to stack in the hallway, opening up the entire wall to the garden. The angle and geometry of the roof create a deep eave outside the building, providing weather protection to the windows and a place for operable louvres that ensure the home can breathe in all weather, even when the big doors are closed.

The overarching design move of the roof form and windows is supported by a subtle design that aims to complement daily life, not control it. A wall of joinery partially separates the kitchen and the living room, concealing the messy areas of food preparation and providing shelving and a screened ledge for the TV. An existing timber table is used as the kitchen island, providing texture and welcome contrast to the new joinery. Cork-tiled floors create a warm and gentle texture underfoot.

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