Allan Street House

 Allan Street, Brunswick: A Budget Conscious Residential Project

The Clients
The clients for this project were a couple living in Brunswick with their two young children. Originally, their issue was that they had relatively modest requirements, partly due to money, but also because they wanted to be sustainable. They saw the benefit in opting for a small footprint. The clients had previously worked on an initial design with a different architect that didn’t provide a satisfactory outcome. The other architect had designed quite a large, two-storey renovation which, by the time it was priced, was twice their budget. The clients were really disappointed and so the first discussion with us was – “Well, it may be a nice design, but we really don’t want to build something that’s twice our budget.”


Above: The front yard of the Allan Street Cottage

Initial Stages – Working to a Tight Budget
The initial stage for this residential project was an area analysis, with the key focus being budget. This formed a broad understanding of the design parameters which provided the knowledge to get the budget right. After the area analysis was undertaken, a feasibility involving four different schemes exploring the opportunities available on the site were completed. The first scheme which was in the end the chosen scheme (we find the first one’s almost always right as it’s based on an experienced ‘gut feel’) was to try to keep the main body of the house, and do a simple single-storey extension. It responded to the little Brunswick cottage and provided spaces that maximised connection, that ran along the south boundary to catch the northern sun. Some of the restrictions on the site included a high building blocking some of the northern light, minimal backyard and the existing living areas facing west. A two-storey option was one of the options explored. It would’ve been cheaper than the scheme provided by the other architect while allowing for more outdoor space compared to the single-storey proposals. The clients looked at the price and this option was eliminated straight away as they were very sensitive about the budget.

Working as a Team – the Architect + Client Relationship
When we came to the clients with the area analysis, they were hoping to do something for less than what they eventually decided upon. The clients accepted spending more than they had initially anticipated, but they had trust that it was worth it, and chose to move forward with a more expensive but considered scheme that was realistic about their needs.
Budget expectation is an important conversation to have with your architect and shouldn’t be avoided. We approached the client with this scheme and explained that if they couldn’t afford to do it, then that’s the reality of the situation. We would prefer to loose the job, rather than have the client proceed with a project that they feel is beyond their means. When an experienced architect is realistic about this, the client should know that they’re not just trying to talk them into the job. Then it’s a matter of how do you maximize value. How smart of a design can you create to maximize what the client gets for their dollar.

Avoiding Unforeseen Budget Blowouts
It’s likely that the design from the previous architect was always going to be larger than they ever wanted, and more expensive than they could afford. Potentially, the other architect may have lacked a realistic understanding of budgets in the house extension market. The client may have also been a bit guarded with the architect and said, “Oh, just do some sketches and we’ll see where it gets us.” The risk is getting too far into the design process, and then being disappointed when the scheme is far too expensive. An important thing to do as a client to avoid this scenario is to practice clear communication, finding an architect that you resonate with and working with them to find a budget and scheme that you’re comfortable with.

Budget estimations on small projects such as house extensions can often be difficult as a quantity surveyor is often not engaged. You can engage a quantity surveyor, though our experience has often shown that they can be overly conservative when it comes to house extensions. An option is to use a different procurement system, where you start negotiating with a builder reasonably early on even if you pay for an early estimate. Then you can gain confidence that you’re in the right ballpark. Of course, domestic budgets even at tender with drawings can vary at least 50% from highest to lowest, so finding the right builder and the right quality level in the market at the right time is the challenge!

Value Management to a Reach Budget Goal
An additional consideration when designing to a tight budget is prioritising elements that are important and worth putting money into and identifying other areas that could be adjusted without effecting the overall feel and look of the place. An example from this project involved replacing bespoke joiner made robes to the bedrooms with an off-the-shelf product sourced by the builder. Overall, if you do a tight design that is easy to build, while still having a ‘wow factor,’ and you minimize the square meterage of the new build, you’ll always have a bit of scope to introduce those other nicer elements, like a beautiful kitchen or better performing windows.


Above: Budget choices saw the finish and quality of the kitchen a priority.


Allan Street, Brunswick: The Benefits of a Small Footprint

Maximising Space Efficiency
More often than not, the thing that drives budget is building area. The cheapest scheme always involves less building. Being smart about the planning, means reusing repurposed space in a simple way to allow for less building area. The other driver is the complexity of construction. The chosen scheme did more in less building and encompassed quite a simple structure over the top with the amount of external walls limited i.e. not too many ‘ins and outs.’ We didn’t really change the main fabric of the existing house. We treated the old and new as two distinct areas. Budget-wise, this was an important approach.

201504_WEBSITE PLANS_170419Above: The finalised plan. The area to the east is the existing cottage with a new bathroom, laundry and ensuite extension. To the west is the new area with kitchen, dining, living and study areas connecting to the north facing garden.

The clients were hoping to incorporate a study area also so the goal soon became trying to maximize the amount of space or amount of function in the least amount of building. There were a few tricks applied to reach this. One was that the corridor in the new living space is effectively apart of the dining and living room. The study became an extension at the end of the living room – an additional space under the same building form, rather than building a new area out to the side. This form then extends to the rear boundary providing a storage area –  a cheap, efficient way to gain extra space.


Above: the study space beyond the main living area

Solutions to Site Constraints
The primary constraints for this project were really the budget and the small site. The project also explored the idea of what a Brunswick worker’s cottage is and the lifestyle that it pertains for a young growing family. The location, the connection to parks, and the acceptance that you’re not going to have a big garden or backyard were also key guiding factors. Everything in a Brunswick worker’s cottage, on a tight site, is small. So how do you make it feel larger and lighter? How do you, not just let sunlight in, but create a sense of volume pulling away from the experience of being in a pokey terrace house in Brunswick? The constraints called for a reinvention of the worker’s cottage.

The solution was to angle the roof up to the east. Still a simple flat roof in form, but just tilted upward. The decision came about due to not just trying to bring more light in, but it was also a way for the space to really contrast to the rest of the house.

Going Small
In Japanese architecture there is an intention to really manicure a small space into something that functions while being pleasant to be in. As long as you aren’t walking through one space to get to another across a diagonal, then you can make small spaces work effectively. For example, a dining table is something you walk around because you have to sit around it. It immediately becomes circulation space which means you can double up the dining room circulation with the in-out circulation. This Japanese approach to design, has a way of looking at the elements that are to be housed by the space. It’s not just having a room that you then furnish, it’s getting the space to work for the intended furniture.

Although the footprint of this project is quite small, the ceiling is high. It feels quite big because it has this extra volume. When you have limited outdoor space you often only have short views. Having a tilted roof line with a bank of high windows meant that the space became quite sculptural while allowing views to the sky. A connection to the outside is so important. In smaller projects it becomes even more important to consider the shorter view, the mid-view, the sky view, and the long view.

RG927c_0058     Above: The tilted ceiling allowing windows that let in morning sun and allow long views of the sky.

Many extensions we’re involved in follow a similar strategy – you have a small terrace house with quite small spaces, repurposed with high, dramatic ceilings as seen in this project, or strategically placed large windows or even views from one space to another through a garden terrace. It makes the house feel like a much bigger space.


Allan Street, Brunswick: The Passive & Active Energy-Efficient Systems Implemented

Passive Systems
For this project, just as in all of our projects, a range of passive solar design practices were applied to the scheme. When considered in the initial design phase, they can be quite straightforward. The large expanse of glazing is facing north toward the sun. An overhang at 63 degrees shades the glazing to let the winter sun in while blocking out summer sun. A pergola structure snakes around the side of the building. It becomes larger on the western side to shade lower western sun. The form of the sun shading reflects how you’d naturally use the space at different times of the day. Where the overhang widens, a shadier, cool spot is created that can be used in warmer weather.

RG927c_0037Above: The North facing glazing screen by the pergola structure

All the walls and ceiling have a high level of insulation and a concrete slab acts as a thermal mass absorbing the warmth of the sun. Cross-ventilation through the space, ceiling fans and a bank of high operable louvres that work as a thermal chimney, assist air movement and the expulsion of warm air, in turn enhancing comfort levels.

RG927c_0044Above: windows and doors placed to allow cross ventilation and a operable windows working as a thermal chimney.

An additional element to enhance the efficiency of a home is compartmentalisation. When you have an old house and a new extension, it’s easy to make the new section thermally function well. Though the old house is often quite difficult to deal with. You can add insulation in ceilings and walls, but unless you’re re-plastering, it’s difficult and expensive to do so throughout. Having doors that separate the old and new areas of the house is a simple way to separate spaces, enhancing thermal performance. Whether it’s cooling when air conditioning is on in the main living areas, for heating, or sometimes it’s even beneficial for noise.

Active Systems
Micro inverter PV cells were installed which are more adaptable to batteries as well as adding more panels at a later stage. All solar panel systems installed in our projects are battery adaptable. There’s a common issue of heating and cooling in house extensions and every client has a different view of how much they want to heat or cool their home. Some people prefer not to heat bedrooms while some do. In this project, there were three existing split reversible air conditioners. With consideration to budget, these were added to rather than discarded. Several rooms have a reverse-cycle air conditioner which, intuitively sounds like a terrible thing to do environmentally; however, their PV electricity generation on the roof would mean that during the day, they’re probably covering the electricity. The intention is also that due to do the application of passive solar design principles, additional insulation etc. you’d hope they don’t have to use the split systems too often. In-slab hydronic heating was installed in the kitchen, dining, living room and study areas.
Selecting efficient active systems for a home is really about identifying how the occupants want to live, and also working with what’s already there, not just discarding it and applying a whole new technology, especially when working to a tight budget.





  • Builder:
    Virgon Constructions
  • Structural Engineer:
    Brock Consulting
  • Photographer:
    Rory Gardiner

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