Westgarth Timber House
“Architect Ben Callery shows that when the ‘connections’ between people, the building and the garden are carefully considered together, the resultant synergy can bring great benefits to every part of the house” Caroline Pidcock
In the Westgarth Timber House we pursued a “realness” and connectedness often missing in contemporary society and buildings. It’s a reaction to synthetic materials, air-conditioned spaces and cellular living. In an age where clients tell us their kids retreat to bedrooms and communicate with parents via social media, we strive for a house that feels more real. Real materials, real heating, real cooling and real family interaction.
The existing single-fronted house was retained for its contribution to the streetscape, the flexibility in its Victorian rooms and its stored embodied energy. Its timber wall, ceiling and floor linings provided a cue for re-interpretation in timber details in the contemporary addition at the rear.
We sourced a diverse range of recycled, salvaged and radially sawn timbers and wove them into a naturally comfortable, site-responsive home. This timber is used practically to create sun shading, breeze control and privacy but also imaginatively to create feelings of transparency, floating and seclusion. Pursuing renewable, environmentally responsible materials, most timber is local radially sawn hardwoods. Real materials. The various species and sizes are expressed honestly inside and out, celebrating the differences inherent in the milling process creating authenticity, warmth and tactility.
Conscious that the sourcing of discarded materials was a nest-like approach, we accentuated this in the detailing, abstracting the elements of the scavenged materials to explore the contrasting feelings of living in a nest; open and breezy but warm and cosy. Semi-transparent but secluded. Rough and tactile externally but comfortable internally. And a sense of floating, perched in the treetops.
Responsive to climate
The form of the addition responds to the site. The roof rakes northwards maximising solar gain. Real heating. Angled timber louvres block summer sun while welcoming winter sun and the upper floor cantilever creates extra floor space while shading rooms below. Cantilevered awnings to the north, east and west float dramatically over windows providing visually compelling but practical sun and rain protection.
South-facing first floor windows catch prevailing breezes over neighbouring rooftops. Real cooling. The angled timber privacy screens and full height balustrade create seclusion but also function as baffles, directing these breezes downwards into living spaces below.
The space creates the connections
The living spaces are designed to create connection to the external environment outside and foster greater connection between family members within. The ubiquitous linear living/dining/kitchen layout is turned sideways and elongated so the kitchen is adjacent to the back doors, allowing interaction with kids in the backyard and shotgun hallway views to the front door.
The north-east oriented void provides dramatic sun and treetop views but also connects ground floor living rooms with upper floor rooms including the floating study loft. Perched in the treetops, this is a place of selective seclusion where family members can seek recluse while still being connected with family life below. Currently a play space, this will evolve into a study nook as kids grow. Flexibility is important. There is no master suite, just four bedroom-sized rooms that are multi-purpose and can evolve with family needs.
|Designer||Ben Callery Architects|
|Builder||Ben Callery Architects|
|Clients||Ben Callery (and family including wife and 2 kids and dog)|
|Building area||120m2 Addition = 185m2 Total|
|Year of completion||2014|
|Sustainable features||Passive solar design, renewable materials throughout.|
|Awards||Finalist in Australian Timber Design Awards - Best Renovation Category|
Liveability Q and A with the owners
1. Was energy efficiency an important factor in the brief to your architect?
2. Do you see a home renovation which optimises environmental factors as being: better for the life in the house, or for the efficiency of the house or both ?
We believe that optimising passive solar gain and natural ventilation is really important for creating real heating and real cooling that uses less energy but is also healthy for the occupants.
3. How were issues concerning sustainability addressed in the design?
This house incorporates passive solar and natural ventilation to minimise energy consumption, but its salient contribution to contemporary architectural conversations on sustainability is the exploration of low embodied energy materials instead of mass.
There’s a perception that “sustainable” buildings need mass for thermal stability despite the embodied energy, particularly in concrete. Clients love heated slabs, but they acknowledge its slow reaction time when heating up in cold snaps, and more so when warm days follow cold, creating an overheated house, requiring windows to be opened and stored heat expelled. This prompted us to ask whether mass is the only way.
This project demonstrates that well-insulated, well-oriented, lightweight buildings can be thermally sound and nimble in responding to Melbourne’s temperature fluctuations. They can passively heat and cool quickly and use small “bursts” of mechanical conditioning when required with no “wasted” energy in slow reaction times, all while containing less embodied energy.
Having decided to pursue low embodied energy, we resolved to source renewably harvested materials wherever possible. Most timber is locally grown and radially sawn (low-wastage) hardwoods. We went a step further with this environmentally responsible material, sourcing discards from “seconds” stock. Continuing the low wastage ideology, we incorporated these into an architectural language developed to use all thicknesses of boards created by the radial milling process (100mm, 80mm and 55mm and 40mm wedges.)
Other material specification focused on high thermal performance, low embodied energy suppliers including earthwool batts (80% recycled glass) and low-e or double glazing. External grade plywood was selected for resource efficiency doubling as external cladding and bracing.
A concrete floor slab would have been around 30m3 of concrete. Instead the only concrete used was 39 stumps, and 2 cubic metres of pads = total <2.5m3, making this a lower embodied energy, while still thermally efficient, fast response alternative.
4. Are you addressing sustainability in other areas of your life as well?
Where possible yes. The approach for this house of using real materials, real heating and real cooling sums up the way we want to live. In touch with reality.