One Other Thing

Kate Finning & Andrew Power

In Australia, the detached single-family dwelling is the reference point against which all other forms of housing are measured. For most Australians, their home is their primary asset, so above all else it must maintain resale value. This economic condition leads to a generic plan that supersedes any individual circumstances for how one actually lives. Like a self fulfilling prophecy, the perceived demand influences actual demand and the result is a house designed for the market.

As an architect, one response might be to denounce the suburban way of life, to call for increased densities, shifts to urban centres, or co-operative housing models. Another response may be to take a reformist approach, to work with the models we already have and to suggest subtle and incremental alterations over time.

One example of the latter approach is Joshua Duncan’s Kealy House in Western Australia, currently under construction at a cost of $265,000 + GST.

From the street, the house is typically suburban in form. A single-storeyed tripartite facade contains a central loggia, with a garage and bedroom on either side. A hipped roof ties these elements together, and a wide driveway grounds the facade. The walls and roof are clad in a sheet metal profile similar to garden sheds, and a corrugated entablature runs horizontally around the house, making each element legible despite being treated in a uniform material.

In real-estate terms, the house fulfils its inevitable role as a re-saleable asset: a three to four bedroom, three bathroom house with a garage. So too, the hierarchy and location of rooms can be read as a typical nuclear family plan, with a clear primary bedroom and ensuite, as well as two smaller rooms with seperate bathrooms. The house includes additional marketable features such as an open plan living-dining-kitchen, combined scullery pantry and laundry, and a north facing verandah onto main living spaces. This is everything in a plan that the market demands, however there is one room that breaks with convention.

A 4.5m square room positioned adjacent to main living spaces has no prescribed use. The location of doors, and the room’s position in an enfilade between the most open and closed rooms of the house suggest that it can belong to either. The ambiguity of this room allows for the projection of one’s own desires within the confines of a typical marketable asset. Perhaps the aim of adaptable housing is not that anything can happen in any space, but that one room has multiple readings.

Instead of searching for new housing typologies to solve the problem of the suburbs, we can work within the models we already have to provide one moment of ambiguity. Kealy House does this, and at a cost familiar to those looking for a volume-built house.

Kate Finning is an architect practising in Melbourne. Kate is a graduate of The Architectural Association School of Architecture. Her built work and teaching centres on the architecture of housing and the domestic plan as a project.

After working for Office Kersten Geers David van Severen in Belgium, Andrew Power returned to Australia to teach and build. He believes architecture is about proportion and arrangement, and that when your proportions are strong, you can make a lot from common things.

Andrew and Kate are studio leaders of Duplex Studio at The University of Melbourne’s MSD.

Image Credits:
Kealy House, Joshua Duncan Architects.
Photographs courtesy of JDA.