Together, David Toussaint and Kirsty Volz have more than 30 years of experience in architecture, but a patch of land recently purchased by the couple presented a new kind of challenge. The narrow block wedged in up along a railway line in Australia's north forced the pair to think carefully about what they wanted from their new home. The result? A flexible dwelling that, strangely enough, makes use of its slender profile to help counter the subtropical climate.
With the block measuring just 5.5 meters (18 ft) across, whatever Toussaint and Volz ended up building on this site in Brisbane's inner north was going to be skinny. Dubbed the Two Pavilion House, the home is actually made up of two separate double-story structures lined up one behind the other, which are joined by a walkway on the upper level.
This configuration, which also makes for a partially covered courtyard space in the middle and a garden out back, affords the home extra natural light and airflow. And as Volz explains, it also means it can suit a number of different living arrangements.
"Splitting the house into two towers provides us with lots of flexibility," she tells New Atlas. "We can inhabit the house in many different ways. It can be inhabited as a single family dwelling, as a multigenerational family, it can incorporate an office for a family business or be used for income generation as rented accommodation."
The openings created by the separation in the middle work with others placed strategically around the house, and the circular holes that dot its facade, to keep internal temperatures to a minimum.
"Responding to the local subtropical climate in Brisbane was a significant driver behind the design," says Volz. "Incorporating the circular patterned screens throughout different areas of the house provided deep shade to living areas and bedrooms, creating cool and comfortable spaces to inhabit.
"We also made sure that there were lots of opportunities for cross ventilation, by placing openings, doors and windows, directly opposite each other on external walls to allow the air to flow through," she continues. "We used high level openings to encourage cool air to move through simple convection – hot air rising, encouraging cool air to be drawn up through the space. The narrowness of the house substantially helps to promote all of these ventilation strategies."
For materials, Toussaint and Volz turned to the strengths of timber to save on costs, external noise and environmental concerns, though this wasn't always so straightforward.
"We were committed to a timber house," Volz tells us. "Firstly, sticking with a limited material palette means that you minimize trades and that saves a lot of money. Timber is also a great material for acoustics, it absorbs sound, which we needed being so close to a train line.
"It also has lower embodied energy compared to other, more processed, materials, it's easily recycled, and naturally breaks down," she continues. "We also used plywood for internal joinery rather than MDF [medium-density fibreboard] for these same reasons. We really had to fight to avoid steel framing, and had to consult a number of engineers before we found one that was willing to work with timber only."
The duo also looked to buffer noise from the rail line with thoughtful placement of the circular-patterned facade and stairs, which tied in nicely with the sunlight, or lack thereof, coming from the direction of the trains.
"We also put all of the circulation, hallways and stairs, on the southern side, which faces the railway line," Volz explains. "In the Southern Hemisphere the southern side of a building receives limited sunlight, so it's not important to open buildings to this aspect. We also don't need many openings for stairs and hallways, which helped with the acoustics. This meter-wide corridor of stairs and hallway to the south, along the train line, provides a cavity that attenuates the sound from trains."
Skinny it may be, but the Two Pavilion House might look almost spacious alongside some of the other skinny homes we've seen, particularly those to pop up in London's ever-expensive property market. For the sake of comparison, we have seen developers construct incredible homes there on plots as thin as 2.3 m (7.6 ft across).
Constructed rather quickly in a period of just five months, the Two Pavilion House currently serves as a three-bedroom home for the couple and their son. The spare bedroom out back features its own entrance and currently serves as rental accomodation.
See more of the Two Pavilion House in the gallery.
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