A Study in Materiality - Thornbury House by Olaver Architects
Thornbury, VIC, Australia
Born from a desire to create a light-filled extension, Thornbury House is a study of materiality that endorses longevity and minimal maintenance. Emlyn Olaver of Olaver Architecture speaks to their process of approaching domestic life with a sense of flexibility and preparedness.
Purposefully separated into old and new, the concept for Olaver Architects’ Thornbury House stemmed from the idea of “a box on the back”. Emlyn Olaver speaks to their original concept, reinforcing that his gesture was “a deliberate distinction between the existing house and extension, which was guided through numerous design decisions”. Although the flow between the old and the new has engrained purpose and rigor, the celebration of this division was included almost as a portal-esque experience, whereby the transition from one space into the other indicates a clear separation in time and functionality. This journey is then manipulated through a series of subtly nuanced geometries in plan.
Clad in a combination of cement sheet and timber, the extension sees the work of builder Grbac Constructions create a solid anchored presence to the rear of the property. Throughout, additions, demolition and discoveries of the assets of the original build were uncovered. Emlyn says, “the front rooms of the existing double-fronted house have been rejuvenated, and the original high ceilings which were revealed during the process, have been reintegrated to create spaces that are generous and bright”. This volume is then mirrored in the varying living spaces and double-heighted family room to the rear. These spaces are intended, as Emlyn says, “to be generous and conducive to casual family life”.
Thornbury House is a study of materiality that endorses longevity and minimal maintenance.
Emlyn says, “the clients wanted a simple transformation, that also maximized the garden space”, and being that the rear of the site was significantly north-facing, he adds, “the project (deliberately) optimises light and direct solar access”. Through not only material selections, but also through the series of controlled and mechanised openings, there are several sustainable practices integrated throughout. Emlyn says, “the concrete floor was a passive design element where functionality mediates the temperature of the house, while formally grounding the lightweight feel of the timber joinery and finishes”. This play on contrasts, one soft tactile material against another hard, robust material defines the palette of Thornbury House. A selection of timber, concrete, drapery and muted greys, all combine to create a series of spaces that are grounded in a sense of longevity.
Purposefully separated into old and new, the concept for Olaver Architects’ Thornbury House stemmed from the idea of “a box on the back”.
Threaded into the fabric of this home is an honesty of materials, where the surfaces were chosen for their fortitude. For example, Emlyn says, “the external cement-sheet cladding to the upper story was selected for its low maintenance utility”, and overall the approach to materiality, “sought to endorse both longevity and minimal up-keep”. To add to this, the internal planning seeks “to optimize light and direct solar access through north-facing glazing, while views frame vegetation to the east and west”. Combined with other systems, he adds, “Thornbury House eliminates the need for air conditioning, instead taking advantage of cross-ventilation in combination with a reversible ceiling fan”.
“The project (deliberately) optimises light and direct solar access”.
Designed as an addition, connected yet in a way that individualises its own unique identity, Thornbury House is a play on contrasts. Core to the success of these opposing styles, forms and approaches is an understanding of the importance of flexibility in domestic space. A vision shared by the client, and facilitated by Olaver Architects, is brought to life through robust and timeless materiality. A series of spaces that open and connect in interesting ways, with functionality open for interpretation is key to embracing the changing climatic and domestic variations.