Industrial rural conversion

The design questions functions. Here, the kitchen bench transforms into a staircase.

Converting a heritage kiln near Melbourne into a home has led to some dynamic and unconventional outcomes. Architect Andrew Simpson discusses the benefits of flexible and adaptive design. Text Andrew Simpson. Photography Peter Bennetts.

This house is the outcome of a close collaboration with one half of the client team, artist and landscape architect Charles Anderson. Sited on the north-west edge of Phillip Island – about two hours from Melbourne – the project involved the conversion of a heritage-listed chicory kiln into a couple’s residence. The original building is one of the few examples of early twentieth-century chicory kilns on the island constructed from concrete.

The simple and humble gable form of the original historic kiln.

The kiln is one of three buildings set within a large coastal property adjacent to protected wetlands. The Coldon home (a guest house and artist’s studio) and Settlers’ Cottage (sewing studio) provide complementary amenities to the main house and, along with an outdoor bathroom, precipitate an engagement and traversal of the surrounding gardens and landscape.

The design was conceived as part of a discussion between architect and client as to what might constitute a ‘home’ in a world where prevailing conditions are of speed and dynamism. These ideas emerged from an earlier art installation produced by the client and exhibited at Tarrawarra Museum of Art in 2007.

The architecture focuses, not on the constrained functions that usually define a house, but on the idea of facilitating and celebrating change and movement. Almost the entire house comprises adaptive and reconfigurable spaces, intended to create a place that celebrates flexibility and a sense of ‘open-endedness’. The only clearly defined room within the house is the en-suite.

A study mezzanine floats above the kitchen, while a simple door on the right creates an informal entry into the house.

Ongoing manipulation of spaces and passages allows for new possibilities in use; we treated rooms as an interior landscape defined by interlocking volumes and platforms that extend to the exterior decking and surrounding context. The design of the house is an attempt to respond to French novelist Georges Perec’s question: ‘We should learn to live more on staircases. But how?’

Divided into two primary volumes, the nucleus of the house is a reconfigurable kitchen in which the joinery works as the connecting element, visually and functionally, between ground and first floor. This area is designed to accommodate a range of activities from group cooking classes to an intimate meal.

Opposite: Original roof framing is left exposed and celebrated. Artworks by Charles Anderson, the client.

The project was delivered on a small budget, despite the need to rebuild and restore the heritage structure. New external walls were built from in-situ reinforced shotcrete in order to remedy significant structural cracking and spalling of the existing building.

As a heritage restoration and reconstruction project there were a number of challenges in improving the passive thermal design of the building. For instance, limited changes were permitted to the extent of external openings, and the building works had to incorporate large areas of existing structural framing. To improve thermal performance, existing windows were fitted with fixed double-glazing and timber louvred inserts to reduce the overall amount of glass, while conforming to heritage constraints and improving cross-ventilation. The decking on the north side of the kiln is integrated with a large concrete retaining wall and water trough, which originally served as part of the industrial function of the building and has now been tanked and refilled with water to provide passive cooling.

The study mezzanine and only bedroom share the top floor.

To incorporate insulation and vapour barriers into the roof, we added a second layer of structure over the existing trusses, creating a new cavity that exposes the old structure within the interior. New, lightweight metal canopies, installed over the ground-floor north-facing windows, provide passive shading. An operable skylight introduced into the apex of the kiln roof helps draw heat out of the building.

When selecting materials, we aimed for a sense of modest honesty that would reinforce the spatial and formal qualities of the house. We retained as much of the existing cedar cladding as possible. An art installation of approximately 100 square metres produced by the client six years previously was adapted into a ceiling lining. Plywood was used for the joinery and, in the less trafficked area of the study, finished in Miratone wax. The external fencing and outdoor shower include recycled materials from a collapsed shed near the site.

The original desire for a house that is attuned to the more fluid nature of contemporary living is evident two years on from completion of the project. The clients now regularly commute between Melbourne and Phillip Island, spending almost half their time in the house.

The living room is part of a long narrow space in the historic kiln building.

Originally published in The Design Guide issue 5, 2015.

Architect: Andrew Simpson, Australia
Photographer: Peter Bennetts 

Architect profile

Andrew Simpson is an architect, interior designer and principal of Andrew Simpson Architects. Educated at Harvard, Melbourne and RMIT universities, he was a recipient of the Ideas National Emerging Designer Award and the Harvard University Kevin V. Kieran Prize. He taught at the Architectural Association in London, and also taught design at Harvard, Melbourne and RMIT. He was lead consultant in developing the feasibility study into establishing architecture at Monash University and subsequently held a position there as a senior lecturer. His built work has been published in Mark, AR and AA.


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