In a densely packed Melbourne suburb, architects Jessie Fowler and Tara Ward of Fowler + Ward have crafted an elegant multigenerational dwelling that’s a refreshing spin on the typical humdrum dual-occupancy townhouse.
"Dual-frontage subdivisions are a practical and affordable way to double density within the suburbs, however they are often associated with a loss of neighborhood character, awkward spaces, and minimum setbacks that overwhelm unhappy neighbors," explain Fowler and Ward, who formed their emerging practice in 2018.
"This project explores how we can rethink these developments to create new dialogues with existing streetscapes and better quality homes," continue the architects. "The playful form, evocative materials, and deep connection to the site all work together to address this tension."
The clients, a young couple with a son, inherited the small 5,000-square-foot suburban lot with a run-down California bungalow in 2013. Rather than pursue a renovation, they hoped to squeeze two homes onto the block to create a new home for themselves and an affordable place for their son’s grandparents to downsize as well.
While working with a tight construction budget, the architects challenged themselves to "avoid the anonymity of battle-axe developments"—wherein dwellings are subdivided with one house in front and the other in back—and instead create a dual-frontage subdivision with both houses oriented toward the street to better engage with the neighborhood.
This thoughtful, community-focused approach also informed the Thornbury Townhouses’ material palette and form. The slightly skewed gable echoes the rooflines of the neighbors, while brick detailing and white cladding reference the clinker-brick houses across the street.
A former fence was also replaced with recycled red-and-cream brick pillars with integrated mailboxes that serve as inviting places to perch.
"A productive tension of ‘together but apart’ drives the materiality and detailing," explain the architects. "The houses each have an individual entry separated by a softly defined garden and a sculptural crepe myrtle. A deep porch to one side and a thin blade awning to the other offer a sense of threshold and suburban familiarity."
To fill the main living spaces with daylight, the architects set the second floor back from the rear to capture northern light via clerestory windows. The bright interiors also benefit from the double-height voids that follow the ridge, while the open-plan living spaces open up to a rear terrace for indoor/outdoor living.
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Passive principles largely informed the design of home, which captures thermal energy with exposed concrete floors and reverse brick veneer walls adjacent to north-facing windows. Integrated eaves and battened windows mitigate unwanted solar gain in summer, and operable windows allow for natural ventilation.
"The project balances design needs to build two long-term, high-quality homes on a limited budget," say the architects of the year-long build. "This was achieved in a number of ways. Spatial planning was carefully considered to reduce the building footprint. Circulation is multifunctional and encompasses laundry, drop off, and living areas. Low maintenance, commonplace, and robust materials were chosen for their longevity and cost effectiveness."
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