Littered amongst Australian cities there lies dormant a neglected building typology. Constructed in the late 1960’s and 1970’s the multi storey red textured brick walk up unit buildings offered an idealised residential typology replacing the perceived cramped and dark terraces and semi detached houses of our inner city suburbs. Generally considered to be of little architectural merit due to their scale, negative streetscape impacts and unused open space, this project offers a more sustainable refurbishment alternative to the knock down and rebuild model, where the inherent character of the red textured brick is brought to value.
With minimal change to the existing “H” shaped building footprint, the 4 x 2 bedroom units in Sydney’s Newtown have been fully refurbished and upgraded to meet building code requirements and for potential strata subdivision. Internal planning changes relocate bedrooms spaces to the rear to create larger open plan living areas connecting to new side and front gardens and improve passive cross ventilation and aspect. New doors to the ground level units provide separate entries from the street more akin to semi detached houses.
External spaces have been landscaped to encourage street interaction with the community and blur the boundaries between public and private. The front garden includes a central entry courtyard with concrete seat and separate entries to the lobby and ground floor units. Flanking this are “street gardens” to the ground floor units. Side setbacks have been landscaped as private open space and the rear setback includes parking from the rear lane, access to the lobby and a central communal garden.
Primary to our considerations was the retention of the red textured brick and layering of the façade with new architectural elements to break down the singular scale of the red brick-red tile building mass, so that it may better relate to the streetscape. Priority was given to the lower section of the building to create a strong unifying base to the building. A horizontal band applied to the façade includes a projecting timber reveal and a decorative timber fence extending to the side boundaries.
Newtown is known for its alternative artistic community, street art and graffiti. Drawing on this and the style of the 1970’s as inspiration, new elements have a graphically bold and playful character; new entry pergola; painted render; sculptural letterbox, brick pillar, screens, concrete seat, steps and planting. The vibrancy of the composition provides a transition from the busy urban character of Newtown into the lobby and the more subdued interiors of the units. New brick paving provide a contemporary counterpoint complimenting the existing brickwork in colour tone and pattern.
A polychromatic mural applied to the lower section of the building retains the red brick as an essential element in the composition. The balance between different coloured blocks creates a shadow play and perception of depth and focuses attention to entry and offers a more contributory urban gesture befitting the area.