Space Tower Master: House for Eva and Matilda

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The streets and Brunswick’s lanes are full of clever urban infill projects. A walk through the neighborhood reveals innovative insertions and adaptations in one of Melbourne’s most diverse suburbs. It’s a challenging and rewarding environment for an architect to work in, and MRTN Architects’ addition is a mini-tower that’s a small microcosm of city life.

House for Eva and Matilda is just that: a home for business owner Eva and her daughter Matilda. The site is small – just under 90 square meters of old backyard, subdivided and supported by appropriate zoning that allows for mixed-use development. Small mixed-use zoning is a bit of a lost art; it’s the type of planning approach that supports declining typologies such as the apex house, small factory, and converted warehouse.

This house is a hybrid of house, small building and office. In addition to the main residence, which occupies the first and second floors, the building contains a ground floor studio which is rented out and helps finance the mortgage, and a street-facing office which serves as a workplace. to Eva. Completed in 2019, this great little building seems designed for the post-pandemic era that was to come. Working from home in a well-connected neighborhood has proven to be a great asset during Melbourne’s lengthy COVID-19 lockdowns.

A built-in bench is a space-saving seating option, provides additional storage space and defines kitchen, living and dining areas.

Image: Dave Kulesza

The house’s architectural sensibility seems suited to a semi-industrial context – an exterior palette of sheet metal and concrete block – but it is also reminiscent of the compact urban homes of Japan, where density is achieved as much by small lots with houses like apartment towers in city centers. Antony Martin, Principal at MRTN Architects, reflects on how the house sits on the street: “I feel the house has a civic presence with its main south-facing facade. And that its three floors allow it not to be a house but rather something more akin to a public building.

The house is efficiently organized over three levels, with the main living areas on the first floor. Here, a generous room takes advantage of the width of the site and its north rear orientation. An elevated courtyard sits above the studio. The ground floor is dedicated to the studio, the garage, the entrance and the home office, which has a small storefront on the street, seen through a floating staircase.

The staircase winds behind the street facade, attracting light and reinforcing the feeling of volume.  Artwork: Minnie Pwerle.

The staircase winds behind the street facade, attracting light and reinforcing the feeling of volume. Artwork: Minnie Pwerle.

Image: Dave Kulesza

From the street, the house is set back about a meter – enough to create a garden feel and a softer edge to the glazed storefront that connects the interior to the exterior. A covered outdoor space creates an entry threshold into both the house and the studio. It’s a compact space, lined with cinder blocks on one side and travertine tiles underfoot, and it brings the street into this micro-city, acting as the smallest of alleys.

Two bedrooms on the second floor are separated by a bathroom (with a clever outdoor bath balcony), with all three bedrooms enjoying a north orientation. The levels are connected by a staircase that winds behind the main street facade. The composition of the windows is determined by this staircase, bringing light and glimpses to the south from the living spaces on the first floor.

While the material sensibility is overtly metallic and solid on the outside, inside the house is a warm delight of wood and natural light. Oak floors cover the half-level of the main living space, while wood veneer joinery provides essential storage space in the kitchen and living areas. It’s a puzzle of spatial opportunities, with every available space being used. Despite this, the interior remains generous. A void above the staircase creates a sense of vertical space and diffuses southern light into the living areas, and exposed structural wood beams tie the living space together, maximizing ceiling height.

In the second-floor bathroom, a “balcony tub” allows for an open-air bathing experience.

In the second-floor bathroom, a “balcony tub” allows for an open-air bathing experience.

Image: Dave Kulesza

The use of a long “seat step” in the living room separates the kitchen and living areas. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to create a stationary unit in the center of the room, the seat minimizes the need for additional dining chairs and allows for additional storage in the drawers below. It also delimits the compact space into three separate but connected areas.

Getting the right spaces was like a game of Tetris, with many forces at play on such a small site. Antony explains: “Once we were in the design process, program constraints, the planning envelope and the large utility pole up front drove the design. My role was to solve these problems and meet Eva’s needs.

Small sites like this don’t often become a home. It’s a result that requires a different way of thinking about design, using spatial tricks to make compact spaces more generous, and mastering the art of making elements do more than one job at a time. that time. House for Eva and Matilda is a building that teaches us how to operate small infill sites for overlapping uses – an appropriate lesson in a time when our homes have also become workplaces out of necessity.

Meet the owner of House for Eva and Matilda by MRTN Architects.


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