Winner — The Canberra Medallion, The Australian Institute of Architects
Winner — The Gene Willsford Award, The Australian Institute of Architects
Winner — HIA Project of the year, Housing Industry Association
“Our new living space improves our wellbeing beyond anything we had imagined.” Lindy, owner of Empire house
Against the current Australian trend - to build large, fast and cheaply, Empire Canberra is a relatively small, hand-crafted home. Located on a beautiful, wide, tree-lined street, in a culturally significant and important part of the capital, Empire is unapologetic in its architectural detail and craftsmanship, as this is what the area deserved.
Awards Jury Citations…
”Nestled within established suburbia, Empire speaks on multiple levels to the greater concerns within the current built environment of our city.
Canberra is experiencing rapid change as the suburban residential scale 'govies' and bungalows are making way for multiple levelled residences and amalgamated blocks. At a civic scale, office blocks, award winning institutional buildings and public housing developments are being demolished or proposed for demolition with the push for higher, faster, larger. Our beloved green spaces — the lungs of the city - also face an uncertain future in many areas as land is sold and developed. Our built and natural heritage is at risk of being swallowed in the drive for redevelopment of all facets of our community.
Enter Empire. The provocation of Empire lies in the challenge it casts not to build bigger but to be smarter, more considerate and respectful of neighbours and our past whilst lunging forth into a new and exciting future. At no point do the new insertions by Austin Maynard Architects seek to dominate or push their agenda onto the original inter-war style bungalow. The heritage of the existing home has instead provided a delightful springboard and reference point for all design inclusions. This is evident in the continuing datum lines, repurposing of apertures, considered cladding details and colours, and the reinvention of the surrounding informal garden by Bush Projects in keeping with the history of the suburb.
Empire is a refreshing experiment in quality over quantity, with value placed on craftsmanship and detailing to create relatively compact, bespoke additions to the existing home. This has resulted in highly liveable spaces inside and out for all seasons.
As the 2019 jury, we unequivocally believe that Empire is the worthy recipient of the Canberra Medallion.”
The Gene Willsford Award
“Empire is an exemplary piece of architecture demonstrating the unwavering commitment of a client, the considered and evolving vision of an architect and the fine hand of experienced craftspeople.
With the compact addition of a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen to an existing inter-war style bungalow in Forrest, Empire celebrates the practice of architecture through timeless, elegant, playful incisions. The spatial qualities of yesteryear are largely retained and reinvigorated for a new generation of occupants.
Loosely defined spaces emerge where old meets new, providing informal conversation points and quiet spaces through the journey of the home. Decisive slices into the existing home speak of a deft hand understanding the importance of responding to history, rather than erasing it.
The seamless transition from the built form into the surrounding garden is a crafted and considered realm in its own right. Rainwater is celebrated and detailed exquisitely, from the cleverly integrated box gutter over the bedroom wing to the custom designed tapered rain head tucked away at the rear of the kitchen.
Empire is a gift from its owners to the street. The considered proportion and materiality of the delicate shingle-clad additions hint at the memory of the past whilst embracing future possibilities.”
Words by Austin Maynard Architects…
Canberra is home to some of the best examples of post-war and modernist architecture in Australia. Empire house is located in a culturally significant and important area of the city, on a ring-road that forms part of architect Walter Burley Griffin’s masterplan. The houses here are a product of an aspirational time in Australia. As architects we felt an incredible sense of responsibility to protect and preserve the original modest cottage, rather than following the trend of demolishing Canberra cottages and replacing with large mcmansions.
The owners of Empire Canberra are well-travelled professionals with fantastic and diverse taste. They had previously commissioned acclaimed architect Enrico Taglietti (an Institute Gold Medalist) on a project in the 1990s. Like us they are ‘lefties’. It was our polemic project, the Styx Valley Protest Shelter - a literal platform for environmental activists, that led them to contact the Austin Maynard Architects office. They owned a modest, inter-war style bungalow in an amazing location and wanted it to become their permanent base. They asked us for “a longterm family home that catches the sun.” The result was two added pavilions, sympathetic to the existing post-war house, but distinctly contemporary in detail.
AN EXERCISE IN RESTRAINT
Empire House is an exercise in considered intervention and restraint. It would have been easier, and a lot less fun, to knock down the existing cottage and start again. The two new pavilions sit comfortably adjacent to the existing house and place the inhabitants in a beautiful, established garden that is characteristic of this Canberra suburb. The aim was to retain as much of the existing character of the site as possible and avoid the common trend of knocking down or adding a dominant and unsympathetic addition. The two biggest issues were - how do we have a conversation with the original building without attacking it or infecting it? And how do we create sunny spaces when the steep site levels and orientation of the house overshadows much of the garden.
The answer was to go in with a scalpel, making some big moves, without damaging too much. We cleared the site lines and created a corridor straight through the house, allowing still spaces and activity zones. We opened up to the outdoors and celebrated the exterior, giving clarity and creating a discussion between the old and the new.
A TALE OF TWO PAVILIONS
The house was in fairly good condition overall, though the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms were oddly positioned and in poor state. The original hearth and fireplace in the living room had a great feel and were retained, along with the light fittings, windows, timber picture rail and skirting. The kitchen was relocated and seperate living and sleeping zones, or pavilions, were constructed.
The new living addition is a pavilion in the garden that maximises passive solar gain, connected to the existing house via a corridor ‘link’. A large north facing roof window spans across the pavilion, and is protected by operable louvres. The master bedroom pavilion is a similar approach of addition accessed via a link. This pavilion is visible from the street, so it was important to respect the character of the existing house, but create a distinctly contemporary piece of architecture. The white shingle form rests on a datum of red brick, responding to the materiality of the existing house.
The craftsmanship of the white metal shingles, each one hand-finished and hand fixed with mathematical precision, is the distinguishing feature of Empire House. The material creates a relationship, a language and a discussion between the two eras, while making it incredibly transparent where the old and new elements meet.
Preferred Builders took great care in executing very refined details - particularly the concealed box gutter and the oversized shingle ridge capping. The detailing of materials externally are reflected internally, as the builders approached the inside with the same skill and care - most evident in the Blackbutt timber lining.
Cars are always a massive issue - typically visually dominant and taking up valuable living space. In light of an automated future on the horizon, which will radically reduce car ownership, it make obvious sense to have other uses for a garage or carport. The car port at Empire House serves as an outdoor space to inhabit by humans, rather than a space entirely dedicated to a machine.
Canberra has more defined and extreme seasonal climes than other Australian cities. It’s a lot colder in winter here, so there was a lot of emphasis on insulation, thermal mass and thermally broken windows. Throughout the colder months the sun streams in through the north facing window, heating the concrete slab which continues to warm well into the night.
The large garden increases the permeability of the site and also radically reduces heat sink in the area. Passive solar principals are maximised by the design.
All new work aims to maximise available daylight and optimise passive solar gain in winter, while ensuring that summer sun does not hit the glass. All windows are double-glazed. With active management of shade and passive ventilation, demands on mechanical heating and cooling are drastically reduced. A large water tank has been buried within the garden. All roof water is captured and reused to flush toilets and water the garden. Where possible Austin Maynard Architects have sourced local trades, materials and fittings.
The real sustainability of Empire comes from saving and working with the original build. Knocking down and replacing with an 8 star building will never be as sustainable as retaining and re-using.
Andrew Maynard, Mark Austin, Ray Dinh
House area: 233m2
Total site area 941m2