An Encased Shielding – Little Black Cabin by Smith Architects

Words by Bronwyn Marshall
Architecture by Smith Architects
Photography by Clinton Weaver
Interior Design by Smith Architects

Ensuring the survival and permanence of an existing workers cottage, Little Black Cabin sees the encasing of the home in a protective sleeve. Smith Architects both drove the design and built the resulting compact home, which stands as an expression of place and fortification.

Surrounded by dense natural landscape in its location of Blackheath, Little Black Cabin is a very Australian story. Particularly of late, and in response to the growing need for rural structures to be bush-fire proof and ready, the process of ensuring a sense of protection in place, amongst such unknown landscape elements, formed an imperative pillar of the resulting brief. Originally a stone cottage built circa 1900s, the workers accommodation is transformed from its prior dilapidation into a highly crafted and considered resolve. As a holistic exercise, the Smith Architects team both designed and led the build of the transformation, allowing a completing of the picture through both their own eyes and hands. As an extension of their core values, the project allowed for every element of their vision to be realised in full.

By inverting the approach, the original fabric of the home was able to be exposed internally, as an expression of time in place.

Like all cabins of its era, the overall plan was rudimentary in nature, simplified and based around a modest sense of protection from the elements. Retaining both the character and history of the home was an important part of the new works, ensuring a continuity of the previous narrative. In its original state, the structure itself needed stabilising and correcting before any new works could begin. Instead of stripping the home back and rebuilding the original elements, a structural skeleton wraps the exterior, both framing and reinforcing the structure. In further ensuring the longevity of the home through this method, the exterior is then wrapped in charred timber cladding as a protective front to potential bush-fire threats.

In assessing the best contemporary occupation of the cottage, the planning itself was also revised to create a more perceptively open and free-flowing movement through the spaces. By inverting the approach, the original fabric of the home was able to be exposed internally, as an expression of time in place. The textural reminders of history then animate the home from within and allow a co-occupation with the more contemporary insertions. In maintaining the original home’s proportions and scale but reworking it through the instilling of a similar hand-built and crafted methodology, an extension of the past is able to be carried into the future.

As a holistic exercise, Smith Architects both designed and led the build of the transformation, allowing a completing of the picture through both their own eyes, and hands.

Through a considered and sensitive approach, Little Black Cabin emerges as an exemplar of integrating heritage within a rural location. Smith Architects comprehensively shows less really can be more.