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Austin Maynard Architects build an Empire

Nav Pal
09 Oct 2019

Against the current Australian trend - to build large, fast and cheaply, Empire Canberra is a relatively small, hand-crafted home.

Located on a beautiful, wide, tree-lined street, in a culturally significant and important part of the capital, Empire is unapologetic in its architectural detail and craftsmanship, as this is what the area deserved. Nestled within established suburbia, Empire speaks on multiple levels to the greater concerns within the current built environment of our city.

Canberra is experiencing rapid change as the suburban residential scale 'govies' and bungalows are making way for multiple levelled residences and amalgamated blocks. At a civic scale, office blocks, award winning institutional buildings and public housing developments are being demolished or proposed for demolition with the push for higher, faster, larger. Beloved green spaces — the lungs of the city - also face an uncertain future in many areas as land is sold and developed. The built and natural heritage is at risk of being swallowed in the drive for redevelopment of all facets of our community. 

Enter Empire. The provocation of Empire lies in the challenge it casts not to build bigger but to be smarter, more considerate and respectful of neighbours and the past, whilst lunging forth into a new and exciting future. At no point do the new insertions by Austin Maynard Architects seek to dominate or push their agenda onto the original inter-war style bungalow. The heritage of the existing home has instead provided a delightful springboard and reference point for all design inclusions. This is evident in the continuing datum lines, repurposing of apertures, considered cladding details and colours, and the reinvention of the surrounding informal garden by Bush Projects in keeping with the history of the suburb.

Empire is a refreshing experiment in quality over quantity, with value placed on craftsmanship and detailing to create relatively compact, bespoke additions to the existing home. This has resulted in highly liveable spaces inside and out for all seasons.

The craftsmanship of the white metal shingles, each one hand-finished and hand fixed with mathematical precision, is the distinguishing feature of Empire House. The material creates a relationship, a language and a discussion between the two eras, while making it incredibly transparent where the old and new elements meet.

Preferred Builders took great care in executing very refined details - particularly the concealed box gutter and the oversized shingle ridge capping. The detailing of materials externally are reflected internally, as the builders approached the inside with the same skill and care - most evident in the Blackbutt timber lining.

Canberra has more defined and extreme seasonal climes than other Australian cities. It’s a lot colder in winter here, so there was a lot of emphasis on insulation, thermal mass and thermally broken windows. Throughout the colder months the sun streams in through the north facing window, heating the concrete slab which continues to warm well into the night.

The large garden increases the permeability of the site and also radically reduces heat sink in the area. Passive solar principals are maximised by the design.

All new work aims to maximise available daylight and optimise passive solar gain in winter, while ensuring that summer sun does not hit the glass. All windows are double-glazed. With active management of shade and passive ventilation, demands on mechanical heating and cooling are drastically reduced. A large water tank has been buried within the garden. All roof water is captured and reused to flush toilets and water the garden. Where possible Austin Maynard Architects have sourced local trades, materials and fittings.

The real sustainability of Empire comes from saving and working with the original build. Knocking down and replacing with an 8 star building will never be as sustainable as retaining and re-using.

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