From the street, Jac House is just an idyllic Victorian cottage from 1907. Little would one know that this quaint villa in an inner suburb of Sydney has had a major modern extension added to its rear. Completed by panovscott architects, the house has been transformed into a contemporary modern home, whilst still honouring the vast jacaranda tree in the back garden that predates the cottage itself. We spoke to panovscott about the process, approach and the influence of modernist architects on this magnificent modern extension.
Can you tell us a bit about the story of this house and its owners?
The story of the house is also the story of a tree. The land was once part of the Gelding Brothers Nursery and at the turn of the last century, the seed of a Jacarandah was planted. In the intervening 117 years, the tree has witnessed the closure of the Nursery, the development of a new subdivision, the building of houses, which themselves are now over 100 years old. In the time from then until now, there have been two owners of the land, a family firstly, and then our clients.
What did your clients ask for in the brief?
Our clients asked us to make a house that would allow them a more proximate connection to the environment. A manner of habitation in which the experience of their gardens, of the street and lane, of the passing of seasons and the time of day, would be an intrinsic part of their experience. In that sense. the house is outward looking, able to be tuned to prevailing characteristics. But then our clients also wanted the house to be inward-looking, to be complex and rich enough for them to live a fulfilling life within its enclosure.
What was your approach to the project considering it was, at the same time, the renovation and expansion of a historic house?
This project is for the transformation of a place via the insertion of a new structure between two that already exist. The first being a federation era four-room cottage, whilst the second is an astoundingly sculptural jacaranda tree, which predates the cottage.
In undertaking such a project, we were able to continue our interest in the effect of time on buildings. This working between space and time, and more immediately the cottage and the tree, enabled us to establish an architecture that is a hybridisation of those references. Whilst each extant place displays a markedly different character, they both define space in the most beautiful manner.
The cottage is a robust brick structure located on the principal street frontage with elegant turn of the century proportions and ornamentation. It is part of a distinct building tradition. Windows and doors are small but intricately crafted. The arrangement of rooms establishes a carefully considered decorum of homecoming and procession. These elements come together to form lofty interiors and gloaming spaces, which evoke for us the social organisation of an assumed culture.
The second extant place, older than the first, is the diaphanous room loosely defined by the outstretched canopy of a magnificent Jacaranda mimosifolia, with branches cantilevering up to 12 metres in length. This great room changes dramatically with the seasons. The abundance of light, connection with the outside and linear forms are all distinctive characteristics of modernist houses.
A kind of complexity arises in the manner of habitation as the different spatial, climatic, aural, and light qualities coexist. At each moment in time a part of the house is optimally refined for the hour, the season, or the mood of our clients. An additional consequence of such a strategy is that our architectural response becomes unshackled from the responsibility to be all things at all times, and is able to offer lovely moments, in both a spatial and temporal sense.
Do you feel influenced and/or inspired by the Modernist movement?
Yes absolutely. We have invested much energy in experiencing and understanding the great buildings of the world. Those wonderful sparse and interlocking interiors of Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and Richard Neutra cast a long shadow.
In the extension, what materials have you used and why?
The ground floor of the cottage, level with the garden at the street frontage, is elevated at the rear. We made a foundation for the addition between that level and the ground of the large garden.
Above the foundation, the new construction is timber-framed using H3 treated plantation studwork and laminated veneer lumber beams. Despite the open nature of the spaces within, the structure has been carefully designed to have limited span lengths. In some areas, the hard working LVL beams are quite large. We use this manner of timber construction often, as the material is plentiful and cost-effective, being made from small pieces of fast-growing plantation timber, and manufactured locally. Lateral stability is generally enabled via sections of plywood braced stud framing though two small steel brace columns are utilised in the more open rear façade.
The external character of the transformation is defined by two materials, that of Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata), and glass. The gum is a durable and hard timber that is endemic to the Sydney Basin. The dark brown timber, treated with Cutek CD50 oil, will fade to grey over time as it is exposed to weathering. The tannins will leach and streak down to stain the concrete foundation beneath. At a certain point in the future the timber will have lost its pigment and settle to grey, whilst the rust coloured markings on the foundations will be evident for a few years longer until the smooth surface of the concrete wears away.
How important was the contribution of your clients, if there was any?
The project is a portrait of a place certainly, but it is also a portrait of our clients, and of us. We are all in this and because we were all working in the same direction there was an ease and effectiveness in terms of collaboration.
Photos via Brett Boardman