The idea that renovating and retrofitting an existing building is likely greener than building from scratch is slowly but surely gaining traction. That’s because more and more people are realizing that we need to take into account the embodied carbon emissions (also called upfront carbon) in the materials that are being used to build things—and more often than not, it appears that the greenest building is the one that is already built and that cities should really be reusing and retrofitting existing housing stock whenever possible.
Over in Australia, the typology of the humble workers’ cottage is one great example of where this imperative for reuse and retrofit is being used extensively. These simple and small homes were originally built back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to house working-class families, and many of them are now protected as heritage-status buildings and highly sought after by homebuyers.
We’ve seen a number of impressive examples of Australian workers’ cottages being revamped into modern homes—some of them with light-maximizing extensions, or with a particular bent toward rebuilding with reclaimed materials. Port Melbourne-based Blank Canvas Architects took on the project of revamping one Victorian-era workers’ cottage located near the port, erecting a rear addition in conjunction with using various space-maximizing strategies.
In addition, the project was required by regulation to retain the original characteristics of the facade, which include the ornate metalwork of the verandah, as well as ensuring that the rear addition is not visible from street level.
Stepping inside House 184, we see that one of the original two front rooms have been converted into a home office with open shelving, co-existing harmoniously with an original fireplace.
Further in and down a hallway, we come into the rear of the house, which now has been transformed into an open-plan space that includes the living room and kitchen.
The living room area features a compact couch, coffee table, and pendant lighting. The home has been redone with passive design strategies that emphasize natural ventilation, in order to reduce the need for air conditioning. Moreover, all the windows and doors are double-glazed to reduce solar heat gain. Energy-efficient LED lighting fixtures have been installed throughout, while new skylights in the upstairs bathroom help to reduce energy consumption and bring in more natural sunlight.
The layout and details of the rear addition were designed in a way that would maximize usable space while forging a strong connection between the inside and the outside. As Blank Canvas’ principal architect Cecilia Yuan explained to us:
“The renovation was for a young family so retaining as much of the backyard as possible was very important to them. We had to design very carefully (and find the right balance) to allow enough space internally without encroaching too much on the outdoor areas. This we achieved by opening up the rear living area completely, detailed planning to maximize the small footprint and installing large bi-fold doors to the full width of the site which allowed an abundance of natural light in as well as creating that indoor/outdoor feel.”
The lovely blue-themed kitchen features a carefully designed integrated refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, which allows the kitchen to extend seamlessly into the living room, resulting in a much larger kitchen. The cabinet design also helps the kitchen to connect visually with the space under the stairs, which is used as storage space.
Moving on outside, we see that a gable roof from a previous renovation in the 1990s was kept and extended over the balcony as a pergola.
A patterned balustrade here refers back to the lace-like metalwork on the front verandah, and the idea is that the pergola will someday be overlaid with living greenery.
The ground floor bathroom now does double duty. As one enters, we are greeted with a soft wash of sunlight coming down from the skylight.
Part of the bathroom is dedicated as a European-style laundry, with the equipment hidden behind full-height, pivot-sliding cabinet doors, which allow for unhindered access to the washer and dryer.
At the rear, there is the shower, which features a view gorgeous enough that one feels like it’s an outdoor shower.
Upstairs, we have two bedrooms, one of which open up to the balcony and yard below.
The bathroom on the second level utilizes some of the same space-saving design ideas as the lower level: a glass-walled shower, a floating vanity, and lots of natural light.
As Yuan cautions, renovating an older house might not save homeowners money due to the amount of labor that is often required, but it does reduce material waste and it does result in a one-of-a-kind home that often has a compelling story to tell. To see more, visit Blank Canvas Architects.