Habitus House of the Year 2020 finalist – Sky House

Combining two adjacent houses in inner-suburban Sydney came with constraints, but also opportunities to re-think the terrace house.

The multi-generational house accommodates different generations under the one roof. Its origins lie in Asia with its tradition of family living. Now, as part of the sustainability project, we have the inter-generational house, whose designed-in flexibility allows the house to respond to changing needs over time.

This house is in Sydney’s inner-suburban East Redfern, a precinct clearly defined by the surrounding road system, generating a palpable sense of community. In fact, it’s not one, but two conjoined terrace houses. With three children, the clients felt at home in the area and were unwilling to move to the outer suburbs. But needing more space, they managed to acquire the neighbouring house. “They needed a place,” says architect, Carol Marra, “that could expand and contract” to allow for growing children and many guests.

For the architects – based in Sydney, but who also work in Malaysia, Singapore and Borneo – it was an opportunity to re-think the dark and claustrophobic terrace house, imported from Britain and so inappropriate for the local climate. This they did by re-visiting the courtyard house typology and studying various examples in countries that share a similar climate to Sydney. Here they found a pattern of courtyards, atriums and internal open spaces.

Consolidating the two houses was not straightforward. This particular row of houses had skillion roofs, so an attic space was not possible. Moreover, the two houses were not on the same level – they were stepped following the slope of the street. The clients initially thought it was just a case of knocking a hole in the party wall. “We could have simply kept the party wall and worked out ways of dealing with the different levels,” says Carol. “Or, we could re-think the typology of the terrace. We did make a hole, but it just wasn’t in the wall…”

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Text by Paul McGillick