Author Archives

You are currently viewing all posts published by Gardiner Architects.

Our Eltham North Playground designed in collaboration with Jeavons Landscape Architects and built by the master playground builders Naturform was featured in an interesting article in this month’s Sanctuary Magazine about the importance of play. The photos of the playground are thanks to Tess Kelly.⁠

Gardiner Architects_Sanctuary Magazine

There’s a strong demand for childcare in Melbourne though the industry can often be more difficult than it first seems. Developers are often tackling difficult sites where residential developments don’t stack up, by opting to build a childcare centre instead. This often means childcare centres are located on difficult sites with a plethora of design constraints that need to be responded to in order to ensure that the facility will foster a safe and enjoyable environment for children to learn in.

Above:  The street façade is softened by the elevated outdoor play spaces

Located on a challenging, steep site, the Bundoora Childcare Centre is a typical development in this sense. The centre is within a larger urban development precinct that saw an increase in the assessed demand for childcare in the area. The steep site meant that the development had to be split over two levels. In the lower section of the property, there’s a heritage cottage surrounded by ground level outdoor play space. The new two storey building is located in the higher section of the site. One of the essential design issues faced at the beginning of the design process was finding the most effective way to refurbish the heritage cottage with minimal intervention to allow it to be re-purposed into an interesting child care space. The priority was to have the cottage relate to the outside while also linking to the new, more program intense new building.

Above: The existing heritage cottage surrounded by outdoor play space

For this childcare project, we were engaged by the developer who is a large property trust that specialises in childcare. We also worked closely with the operator to ensure the centre was aligned with their specific facility requirements. The architectural proposal and resulting building cost had to reflect the long-term rental agreement that the developer and operator agreed to. This can often prove difficult, especially on difficult sites. Architectural skill is paramount to find ways to maximise the number of children that can be accommodated, make the building as efficient and therefore as cheap as possible, while also ensuring that it’s the best design outcome for the children who are going to be attending the centre.

Creating engaging outdoor play spaces

The number of children that the development deal was based on, meant that a design issue arose around how to provide adequately sized, integrated and varied outdoor environments. Elevated outdoor play spaces were identified as a necessity though we wanted to ensure that these spaces moved away from the feel of verandahs hemmed in by high glass balustrades. A strong characteristic of the design became the tensioned mesh that runs right around the elevated outdoor areas. The design is first and foremost about the children and mesh is a more tactile, interesting and engaging surface. It also allows the children to be safe while prioritising more connection to the elements and surrounding views.

Above: A child looks down to the playground below

It was important to provide spaces that were adaptable, so they can be changed to house a range of different activities while also responding to the variation in seasonal and day to day weather conditions. The mesh creates a blending of playground and building. It becomes a moving and changing facet of the building experienced not only from within but from beyond. The mesh also allows for interaction between the raised outdoor spaces and the ground level outdoor space surrounding the cottage.

Above: The mesh allows the otudoor play spaces to feel expansive and connected to the surroundings.

The aesthetic

We prioritised making the internal spaces flexible rather than too contrived or rectilinear. This allowed the operator and their staff to change the internal environment to suit different play activities expanding the possibilities of how the one room can be utilised and in turn extending the lifespan of the built space.

Above: A typical indoor play space with plenty of space, flexibility and connection to outdoors.

The palette of the project prioritised longevity and flexibility. We used colour in a restrained way, most often utilising colour to act as visual identifiers. The doors to activity rooms are painted a deep blue while strong toned tiles distinguish the kitchen as well as the children’s bathrooms. The rest of the colour can be infused into the spaces through the play equipment and art made by the children.

Above: The simple palette applied to circulation spaces

We feel that the architecture doesn’t have to compete with the range of elements and activities within a children’s learning space. It can instead set the backdrop for the people who are taking care of the children providing a changeable environment and avoiding creating an over stimulating space. When considering outdoor play areas, we believe that spaces that allow for active, cognitive and dramatic play don’t need to be too prescriptive. We work with landscape architects to create outdoor areas that have a natural aesthetic that allow children possibilities to explore, be challenged and find new, imaginative ways to use the elements they’re provided. A few logs can be balancing beams one moment and form a story circle the next.

Spaces that foster healthy eating and food education

A design feature that the operator prioritised, was having the kitchen and a healthy eating program as an integral part of the children’s daily activities. We positioned the kitchen next to the entry to the centre. Surrounded by glass, the chef is visible and everyone can enjoy the smells of the food being prepared. The kitchen is connected to a dining area and courtyard with a kitchen garden. It was great to work with an operator that saw healthy eating and food education as a fundamental element to the centres functioning.

Above: The kitchen as viewed from the main entry and reception area.


A range of sustainable elements were incorporated into the project. A 60,000 litre underground water tank helps to effectively process stormwater while being utilised for the flushing of toilets and garden irrigation. PV cells on the roof generate electricity while the whole building is very well insulated which decreases the demand on heating and cooling requirements. The buildings orientation allows an adequate amount of north sun into the building while the hot western sun is managed through the introduction of motorised pergolas. The building really becomes an organism that can be adjusted to suit the different weather conditions the children and carers find themselves in.

Overall, the main sustainable measure undertaken in this project was the adaptive reuse of old building stock. We believe it’s a responsible, sustainable and considered design approach to adapt an existing building so that it can have a new life with a different use. In this case, the approach was to retain the heritage cottage externally only adjusting things where the new use ultimately forced it. Internally, we avoided knocking out walls to make bigger areas, instead creating openings through walls. This created spaces that retained the feel of an old home and resulted in a feel that is more homely and in turn more identifiable for children.

Above: A play space within the heritage cottage.

Adaptive reuse of old building stock

The adaptive re-use of buildings must be the way forward environmentally. Our practice specialises in this, particularly for childcare facilities. When considering the feel of the spaces that can be created by re-using old homes, it can often be an opportunity rather than a constraint. We can assist to identify the suitability of a property through an initial feasibility assessment. We help advise on aspects of the whole development process engaging childcare and demographic experts who can outline whether a particular area has a demand for more childcare. We intimately understand the regulations and requirements of childcare which are applied to then ascertain the possible child yield of the property in question.

A feasibility study can assist a potential developer to make an informed decision through the identification of town planning constraints along with normal architectural issues (including budget). The next step would be to develop the test schematic plan provided as a part of the feasibility study into a more resolved sketch design that sees the progression of how the building, new and old will work.

Clearly the need for childcare is continuing to expand. We believe the imperative is about designing for the children, as the childcare centre is their first experiential learning place on their long learning journey through school. Our task is to merge the needs of the children and all members involved in the development to create a great facility.

 Above: The outdoor play space surrounding the heritage cottage.

We always find joy when we get to work with clients that are members of their community who prioritise creating spaces that bring people together. Whether it’s a playground, a childcare centre or residential project, the architecture can support activities that allow for and inspire connection. Seeing value in community connectivity allows a project to move beyond ‘hero architecture.’ The architectural gesture comes later as a result of an intellectual process fuelled by the incentive of why we are doing it in the first place.

When a family comes to us with an old house or terrace like the one in this project, they’ve accepted that the small, pokey and often dark spaces don’t provide reasonable opportunity for their young family to evolve, flourish and enjoy the lifestyle they’d inevitably like to lead. Our intention with the Elm Street project was to open the house up through the connection of spaces internally while at the same time, letting the outside in. The project also sees a balance between retaining old building stock and a reconfiguration for better family life. It also involved a restructuring of the segregation between formal and informal space.

Above: the mural identifying the side entry to the house

The family at Elm Street are really connected to their local community. They’re friends with all their neighbours and we designed to encourage that, to sustain and grow that connectivity. The clearest gesture that allows this was reconsidering how you enter the home. The entry to a Californian Bungalow is typically through the formal front door. Moving away from this, we supplemented an additional entry off the side lane. The old idea of coming in the front door, where you find the ‘nice room’ that the children aren’t allowed in, that has the crystal cabinet and granny drinking sherry is broken down. The side entry is defined by a mural that is strongly identifiable. All the neighbours know that when you visit, you go down the lane. This informal entry is straight into the living space, so the private family area can easily adapt and become community space.

Above: The flexible extra living space

Old Space – New Space

In a majority of our jobs we tend to reverse the traditional ideas inherent in the layout of older houses. The rooms provided are more defined by the sorts of activity spaces the clients need. Additionally, in two storey family homes, we aspire to strike a balance between connectivity while also providing quiet nooks. In this way, an awareness of and an engagement with everyone’s movements in the house can be fostered.

Above: Large windows and doors allow the indoor activity to spill to the outside

This house is zoned into three clear areas. The children’s bedrooms upstairs, the adult bedroom downstairs towards the front of the house and the living spaces and noisy spaces towards the rear. There is a main informal living space as well as secondary spaces provided for other family activities. On the ground level, the spaces provided have the flexibility to be used in a number of ways. For instance, the study may at times have adults doing the household bills late at night. At other times, you’ll find children doing homework or practicing the piano. It’s where long-term craft projects can take shape or where Lego and jigsaw puzzles can intermittently take over. In this way, we’re able to provide a lot more amenity in a smaller footprint.

Above: Built in seating both inside and outside

Letting the Outside In

The clients have three young children and their family life like most, centres around the kitchen. We designed a large, open kitchen area that connects to the dining and living spaces as well as the backyard. They’re also very keen cooks. They preserve fruit, make Kombucha, keep bees and grow a lot of herbs and vegetables. The open walk in pantry, plenty of bench space and storage are all approaches that allow for lots of food to be produced.

Above: The large, open kitchen

For the family at Elm St, the outside is just as important as the inside. Their backyard works hard to provide space for playing with a cubby house and trampoline while half of the area is an overflowing edible garden and chook pen. They also identified that they enjoy eating outside so the relationship to the garden was really important. To enhance this, we incorporated a kitchen window that opens to become a servery and large glazed doors that allows the dining to flow out onto the deck. The fold back windows in the living room lets the inside activities spill out with a generous space for different play activities or a number of friends and neighbours to gather and sit in an informal setting connected to both the action inside and the garden. The deck on the upper level, looks down on the main garden. Rather than leaving an accessible area of roof bare, a green roof was incorporated. The green roof becomes an extension of usable garden space with the area for bee keeping.

Above: The rear of the house and backyard

The relationship to the outside guided a plethora of other design decisions. A range of openings assist the connection to the outside and help define the spaces. For instance, hidden courtyard gardens were provided outside the downstairs study and ensuite. Expanses of glass allow these small rooms to connect out and feel more open. Longer views of trees in the distance are captured from the upstairs bedrooms. A snippet of the outside is seen through a small triangular window at the top of the stairs, providing a view that’d be missed otherwise. The central stairwell also allows a strong visual connection between the two levels providing an important sense of spaciousness.

ABove: Windows positioned to allow glimpses up to the sky and down to the front door

Sustainability Measures

By having the two stories spaced around the stairwell, a thermal chimney effect is created where cool air is drawn from below and exhausted at the top. This house has ceiling fans but no air conditioning and is really comfortable. The thermal mass of the brick wall and concrete floor also assists thermal regulation. The brick wall that runs down the middle of the house provides a visual texture that identifies the spine of the house. It works thermally as a heat sink as well as a cool sink, assisting the moderation of the indoor environment. The building fabric itself is highly insulated and considered north sun shading has been provided. The project also incorporates water tanks and PV cells.

Above: The central stairwell

The Aesthetic

Choices around aesthetics in our projects are heavily influenced by visiting clients and seeing how they live. The reality is, no matter how minimal or restrained you may create a home, clients are likely to live in a very similar way as they always have. We also avoid being too definitive. We want the house to match people’s personalities and allow them to adapt the spaces over time. For this family, we saw that they are great collectors, they have heart. There’s always food production happening, craft projects, children’s art and toys around, as well as a dog and the chooks. We prioritised making small gestures, avoiding the house feeling contrived where every beautiful thing has its place. Instead, a backdrop is laid that allows the house to evolve and change alongside the family. Gestures such as the deep blue walls of the pantry help emphasize a space. The use of a strong colour contrasts to the glass and timber that opens to the outside but it’s recessive rather than trying to stand out by itself. By being recessive, the belongings and features become the hero in the space.

Above: The feature colour to the kitchen pantry

The external form of the Californian Bungalow had the defining feature of the typical gabled roof. The roof of the new section takes the vernacular form of the gables offset from the retained roof. We liked this sensitive approach that saw the new extension not dominating the existing. In a sense, it could’ve always been there. It looks new in materiality and execution rather than form. Internally, the roof shape allows interesting and dynamic ceilings in the upstairs children’s bedrooms and bathroom.
The form of single residential homes is evolving.

Above: View from above showing the offset gabled roof design

Today we see suburbs full of bigger, grander houses with high fences and tiny backyards. In our opinion, these houses that foster a family life conducted primarily inside, miss the mark. In terms of this single residential project, a focus on community set foundations for a house to avoid being a primarily internalised experience. An internally and externally connected home is created fostering the family life the clients identified in our first meeting with them and creating a home that is comfortable, spacious, practical and flexible.

What is Engineered Timber?
Engineered timber is a whole industry of structural timber manufactured for a variety of purposes. Engineered timber comes in many forms from prefabricated stud walls, to flat plate floors and walls, cassette systems, CLT (cross laminated timber), LVL (laminated veneer lumber) beams, as well as a variety of other composite systems. The essential aspect is that it is part of a prefabrication process.

Can you explain some of these systems in detail?
Flat plate systems include CLT (cross laminated timber), which are timber planks stacked perpendicular, one on top of the other and held in place by glue. This forms a structural plate from multiple horizontally spanning layers. The system can be used to form walls and floors and a whole building can then be stacked up like a house of cards, which means very quick construction times. The other type of flat plate engineered timber is LVL (laminated veneer lumber) which uses plywood running in cross directions to build up thickness. Flat plate systems replace concrete slabs and in walls can replace load bearing precast concrete or blockwork.

1:(L) CLT (Cross laminated Timber) section. 2:(R) A CLT building under construction 

Read more →

In the show ‘The Streets of Your Town’ that aired on ABC, Tim Ross looks at residential architectural trends in Australia. He looks at the modernist movement as well as the evolution in housing design that has resulted in the contemporary proliferation of the ‘McMansion.’ Ross describes how the early modernists had a drive in the way they were thinking about homes. During the modernist era, the general public had a much higher opinion of architects than they typically do now. People were excited by advancements in housing designs that fostered new types of living. Australian Architect Robin Boyd even sold plans in the newspaper, so anyone interested could have access to good home designs that allowed for ‘future living’ as he saw it.

During the modernist movement, cities were seen as dark, dirty places while large sprawling suburbs such as those found in Canberra were more attractive. During this period, a house would take up a third of its site. Within more modern suburbs where development was initiated say ten or fifteen years ago, houses just about consume the whole property. The shift in housing size reflects the change in lifestyle present in modern culture. On the show, an interviewed real estate agent explains, “The dream before was playing cricket in the backyard, whereas now, everything is inside.”

An image capture from ‘The Streets of Your Town’ showing an estate of McMansions

Read more →

There are plenty of ways to go about a building project. As a firm we find that the role of the architect is often misunderstood or not entirely clear. Often people aren’t aware of the role architects have in a project. Fuelled by budget restraints, many people in Australia opt to buy a project home or to go to a draftsperson. The reality is, architects do charge a considerable amount of money and design a lot of high end buildings. The stereotype is essentially an egocentric turtle neck wearer and people understandably fear engaging in a design process where they fundamentally want to be heard.

Liam Neeson sporting his turtleneck as architect Daniel in the film Love Actually

Read more →

This project located in Brunswick, Melbourne started when the clients Liz and Ian decided they’d like to restore the worn-out terrace house that their daughter and her friends were living in. The project moved beyond an investment opportunity, holding the intention to create a comfortable, sustainable home prioritising longevity. The house is in a great area of Brunswick, close to cafes, transport and parks. It has a childcare centre to one side and a two-storey large red brick dwelling on the other. The site is small, long and narrow. Due to these neighbours, the house felt quite crammed in on both sides. The site still held opportunity though the building was in a very poor state.

Our small site with large neighbours to both sides

Fortunately, there are a lot of recreation facilities in the inner north of Melbourne. This has been brought into consideration in a few of our projects in the area where we’ve identified that the site doesn’t necessarily need a big backyard. If appropriate, we opt to provide smaller, efficient outdoor spaces that creates more opportunity on small sites. This often allows for a reduced area on the upper level which in turn lowers building costs.

The existing house consisted of two rooms at the front of the house. Down the hall was a semi open plan kitchen, living and dining area that had two distinct areas that made the space awkward and difficult to furnish. The back of the house consisted of a typical lean-to extension that housed a small room, bathroom and laundry in a very dilapidated state. We’ve often recalled our first site visit when we lifted the timber floorboards in the back room and found that the undersized floor joists were sitting straight onto the soil below.

Existing floor plan

Due to no heritage overlay on the site, a range of possible schemes were assessed. The exploration resulted in the sub-standard section of the house being demolished. The front two rooms and hall that held the vernacular cottage aesthetic of the area, were deemed important to retain. Keeping the front of the house, along with being a more sustainable approach, felt like a more sensitive response to the street frontage. Numerous heritage facades in the area have been lost as new developments replace the traditional style single dwellings.

Above: The finalised plan. The area to the left is the existing house, to the right is the new area with kitchen, dining, living and study  connecting to the north facing courtyard.

Due to the orientation of the site, the scheme chosen prioritised a central courtyard that allowed northern light into the ground level living areas. A spine of services including a bathroom, stairs, storage, a laundry and a study nook run along the western boundary. Large east facing windows through to the courtyard ensure the passage through the house that connects the old and new areas is full of natural light.

Left: View down the hall towards the front of the house. Right: View down hall into new section of house

The kitchen, living and dining area open up to the courtyard to the north as well as the back garden area to the South. A high ceiling in the living space coupled with expansive glazing, enhanced the sense of space due to the increased volume.

The light filled kitchen, living and dining area

Upstairs, the master bedroom and ensuite were also provided a north facing aspect. Due to the small size of the site, multiple tactics to fit the required facilities in the home were implemented. To name a few, the laundry was placed in a cupboard under the stairs, incorporating the stairs into the service spine in an efficient layout as well as doubling up circulation with usable spaces such as the dining area.

 Left: Upstairs master bedroom. Right: Vanity unit in ensuite.

The clients came to us via the local building company Sustainable Homes Melbourne. Liz and Ian described their attraction to the idea of ensuring the renovation incorporated sustainable practices, resulting in a low energy consuming, efficient home. Along with the fundamental passive solar design measures incorporated into the design, additional measures such as the use of PV cells, utilising rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing, double glazing etc. would ensure the building was practical and efficient to run. The form of the building also allows for effective passive solar sun shading. Rather than building a box that a sun shade is then added onto, we designed the walls and roof to continue past the adjacent wall which makes for a cleaner aesthetic, allows for privacy from the close neighbours while efficiently shielding the hot western sun.

  Overhang shielding the hot western sun

The colour scheme developed around the idea of continuing the feel of light, spaciousness and connection to outdoors. The intention was that a paired back palette would allow for flexibility and longevity for the different times and ages that the client’s daughter and other people live there. Due to the ambiguity of who would be living in the house, we wanted to create spaces that were enjoyable, light and interesting, allowing anyone to be able to come in and incorporate their own taste. In the living areas, timber and ply dominates. Splashes of colour are found in the splashback and terracotta pendants hanging above the island bench.

Splashes of colour seen in the kitchen and downstairs bathroom

Few views of the house allow the exterior of the home to be seen. The house is more so experienced from inside, viewing out. The cladding selections aligned with this less common way the house was experienced. Externally, the central courtyard was clad in timber lining boards. The extent of timber cladding in the courtyard makes the space feel very warm and inviting. Liz, Ian and their daughter Cat are very keen gardeners, so the space will soon be very green.

The intersecting faces of the courtyard clad in timber lining boards

For the outer walls, we opted for a low maintenance, raw finish cement sheeting product. The cement sheeting works well on the boundary walls and pairs well with the timber elements such as the windows, doors and decking.

      Cement sheet cladding seen from the rear lane behind the site

The driving force of the project was to not just add a two-storey bulk extension at the rear of the site but incorporate close views of gardens along with longer views of the neighbourhood, distant city and sky. The resulting design of the house creates a quality of light and spaciousness which was a priority identified by the clients in the initial stages of the design process and a strong contrast to the existing house. Returning to the sustainable driving force of the project, passive solar design measures ensured a strong relationship to nature, the sun and natural light, which is often missing in traditional terrace houses, that are always dark, often damp and insular. Overall, the project was kept simple, pragmatic and honest. The clients Liz and Ian were an absolute pleasure to work with and Sustainable Homes Melbourne did a fantastic job.

  The north facing aspect of the upper level master bedroom