Strength of Character - Bustle House by FMD Architects
Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Photography Peter Bennetts

FMD Architects’ Bustle House takes its inspiration from the faded beauty and depth of character that the original Victorian building had developed with age, creating a response that builds on the client’s belief in her role as merely the caretaker of the building, personified as a grand ‘old lady’.

The architects reflected on the contemporary practices of modernising Melbourne’s many ageing nineteenth-century buildings, and how, so often, the preservation of historic architecture is side-lined by contemporary design aspirations. The client’s firm regard and fondness for the ‘old lady’ meant that respecting the character of the home was integral to the brief, while simultaneously helping the building to become more energy-efficient and sustainability conscious.

The personification of the building into the ‘old Victorian lady’ gave inspiration for the form of the new addition at the back, conceived of as a bustle attached to a Victorian lady’s gown.

When viewing the tall, stately building perched atop the hill on a street corner, the architects saw a Victorian lady in profile, and thus the defining design move is the addition of a ‘bustle’ at the back of the original, inspired by the protruding, trailing back of a Victorian lady’s dress. The bustle serves as a simple, functional addition that maintains the character of the original building while creating a striking geometric alignment that does not shy away from the contemporary aesthetic of the timber-clad new addition.

The original building has been left in its original glory, featuring high ornate ceilings, and solid timber flooring opening up to the new addition.

The new extension comprises a light-filled room with a kitchen, dining room, bathroom and laundry. Opening onto the garden, indoor-outdoor living is optimised, a response that recognises the importance of a connection to the outdoors in contemporary life, as contrasted to the closed formality of the original Victorian architecture.

The original home was a Victorian mid-nineteenth century building, set on a street corner atop a hill.

In addition to preserving as much of the structure and character of the original home, the new addition is designed with passive-solar design principles at heart. North-facing glazing brings natural light and warmth into the home in winter, while steel and timber canopies were added to protect the openings from the summer sun. LED lighting, low-VOC paint and untreated timber cladding used internally and externally throughout the new addition demonstrate the project’s sustainable design focus.

The top of the modern wing becomes a balcony to look over the vista views of Melbourne, finished with intercut detail, mirroring the patterns of a Victorian lady’s dress.

Both the garden, planted with agaves and cacti, and the new interior reference mid-century modernist Californian design, providing a deliberate contrast to the original. Rather than choosing to replicate the aesthetic of the original, the Bustle House pays homage to the spirit of the ‘old lady’ by embracing strength of character, with clean lines, timber and exposed brick, and unexpected curvatures creating spaces that rejoice in form, materiality and contrast.

The interior of the new extension focuses on clean lines that reveal the quality of materials such as stone, concrete, and timber.

With the simple, elegant forms of the new addition nestled behind the upright figure of the Victorian ‘old lady’, the design continues an architectural narrative that began over 100 years ago. Updating the functionality of the house to ensure it continues to be relevant into the future, FMD Architects has enabled the client to fulfil her role and responsibility as caretaker of the building for years to come.

The curved windows and walls subtly reference the aesthetics of modernist California architecture.
Trees are invited to grow through the timber balustrade, representing the lacework and embroidery of the ‘dress’ motif.
Published 18 September, 2019
Photography  Peter Bennetts
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