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Quick Facts

Location:

Hawthorn VIC

Function:

Residential duplex

Architect:

Honeyman + Smith

Structural Engineer:

Greg Schofield and Associates

Photography:

Hilary Walker

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HAWK’S NEST

Proximity to an iconic Gothic Revival mansion inspired this modern interpretation.

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The Hawthorns is a Gothic Revival mansion that the Addams Family would be proud to live in. Looming high on a rise overlooking the Yarra River and on to Richmond and the city centre beyond, it was designed in 1845 by the distinguished architect John Gill.

Just around the corner from this bluestone pile is Revival, a contemporary reinterpretation of that style by the emerging Melbourne architecture firm of Honeyman + Smith.

In the 1800s, Hawthorn had a thriving brickmaking industry, extracting local clays to produce distinctive bricks that graced the polychromatic architecture of the period. Daniel Robertson Hawthorn London bricks, another contemporary reinterpretation, were chosen as the external feature material for this project.

A nondescript 1970s house was demolished on the site which has a steep fall following the street. (Over the past 170 years Hawthorn has gained an eclectic mix of housing styles.)

At first glance Revival is a single residence. The dual entrances to the basement garages are the only indicator that it is actually a duplex. The larger dwelling was retained by the clients, the other was sold. In keeping with the Neo Gothic theme the facade is strongly articulated in materiality and plane, both horizontally and vertically. This complex articulation and the receding planes help reduce the perception of mass.

“We approach each project completely separately. Externally this one is a little dark and quite dramatic,” says Tom Honeyman. “Hawthorn has so much history and a lot of beautiful old buildings,” adds Sara Smith. “For this project we tried to do quite interesting proportions and openings, using more classical principles in modern ways.”

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Initially the clients wanted a render finish, however the designers persuaded them that brickwork has a context and texture that connects with the area. The design is contextualised utilising all four facades. North for the street context (a listed building opposite); east for the elliptical windows (The Hawthorns); west for the industrial proportions and painted brick connecting to the city and Burnley; and south for the smaller openings and glimpses to Port Philip Bay.

Each of the dwellings is set over three levels, all bar the top floor being staggered. The external form is cleaved vertically with Daniel Robertson face bricks wrapping the eastern elevation. Black-painted commons bricks to the west provide a subtle yet effective contrast. This painted brickwork is a colour link to the dark, weathered bluestone of The Hawthorns. (Austral Bricks Elements Blackstone is one of a number of possible alternatives in a dark colour face brick which wouldn’t require finishing to achieve this effect.)

The mortar for the face brickwork was colour-matched to the Daniel Robertson bricks and finished flush with the surface. “We like the articulation of an individual brick but we didn’t want to really make it pronounced,” Tom Honeyman explains. The mortar joints of the painted brickwork have a concave finish, aka bucket handle, ironed or round. “We wanted to focus more on the form rather than the individual brick.” The bricklayer did a number of samples for the mortar, “he was quite obliging,” Tom adds.

The structure comprises concrete floor and roof slabs supported on 190 mm blockwork walling. A cavity separates this from the outer leaf of brickwork which is non-loadbearing, being simply supported on rebated slab edges. The party wall is a double layer of 190mm concrete blocks.

Internally the design brief was set around the concept of central public lobby spaces, each connected to the levels above by a central staircase. This circulation encourages interaction between users in the light-filled public areas while the private areas connect via darker ante-spaces that are lightened with natural finishes such as timber.

The central axis in both dwellings runs uninterrupted along the north-south alignment, allowing for cross ventilation through the surrounding public and private spaces.

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The interior colour palettes offer a timeless, classical approach, with off-whites, vivid whites and bronze trims contrasting with the dark external massing. The top levels reward the occupants with far-reaching views.

Three oval windows punctuate the exterior of the larger residence and add to the Gothic intrigue. The designers detailed the set-out of the bricks for these openings in 1:2 and 1:5 drawings “and as far as the installation goes it was fine,” says Sara Smith. None of the bricks were cut. “The plaster finish inside probably took longer than the bricklaying,” she muses. The smaller residence has large recessed openings which connect with the city skyline to the west and Port Phillip Bay to the south.

Having to manage five plans (because of the staggered level arrangement) was a complex coordination issue, especially given the overall height constraint. Despite this the first level has 3.6 metre ceilings. “We don’t like to be unnecessarily over-complicating architects,” says Sara. “Some people said it was more of a mature outcome than our age might reflect, more restrained” she adds with a wry smile.

Daniel Robertson bricks have long been specified in upmarket residential applications, especially in Melbourne so it’s no surprise that Honeyman + Smith has used them since in another project.

What is it about these premium grade bricks? “It think it’s their simplicity, the way they are cut, the way they are formed, “ Tom considers. “For this project, the client wanted to bring in cheaper bricks but it never stacked up, it never really made sense.”

“I love their earthiness,” adds Sara, “and the colour range makes sense for the soil conditions.”

Daniel Robertson clay bricks are now available Australia-wide through the Austral Bricks network. They have the distinction of being certified as Carbon Neutral under the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard. This is largely achieved by the use of a unique fuel for kiln firing: sawdust, a biomass and timber industry byproduct. This certification applies to all aspects of their manufacture from raw material extraction to delivery, anywhere in the world!

Revival has had surprisingly little coverage in Australian architecture media but has featured extensively overseas including Domus, Habitus Living and World Architecture News. It was even the Project of the Day on Architizer. However on that day Tom and Sara were in the air on their way to London and missed their 24 hours of fame!

Daniel Robertson is pleased to have played a part in this project which has brought well-deserved recognition to this young partnership. “These bricks made the most sense for this project so if they make the most sense for another project we wouldn’t hesitate to specify them,” Tom Honeyman concludes.

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