A Pretty Sharp House

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On Saturday I was fortunate to be able to see inside an unique house, part of the Open House Melbourne weekend. It was a house I have seen get plenty of attention lately, and rightly so. A tight triangular site, heritage context and a young family, many would call these constraints. The architect, Fooi-Ling Khoo from OOF! Architecture saw these as opportunities.  From the outside you may wonder “How could somebody live in that place”, however from the inside you think “Why doesn’t everyone live in a place like this”. This is my little review of Acute House by OOF! Architecture.

Before I continue, two things I want to quickly address. One, I am not employed by OOF! Architecture nor doing any publicity work. I say this as I’ve realised this is the second house by them that have been featured heavily on That Architecture Student in the last week. Number two, there is a lack of photographs on my behalf, particularly interior shots. The reason for this is I felt uncomfortable taking photos inside somebody’s home. From the outside, happy to snap away as that is generally “seen from the public”, but inside is this family’s sanctuary and I did not want to disturb it too much. If you do want to see AMAZING photos, from a professional, click here.

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Naturally your first drawn the angle of the site, with the house coming to a rather sharp point. Stand close enough to this point and the house looks distorted. Your eye then starts looking at the simple material palette, where you can immediately know what was exisiting or refurbished, and what was the new build. The dark grey metal cladding is a strong contrast against the white weatherboard but is something I love. The house takes up 100% of the site, which means there is no open space on the ground plane, which creates a problem that as designers we tend to overlook… Where do the bins go? I’m sure there is some council regulation that doesn’t allow your garbage and recycling bin on the footpath year round, hence why we keep them in our front yard or backyards, but this site has no yard. Where are these bloody bins? To the right of the man in the blue jumper in the photo above, in the white weatherboard you see two doors, inside there is a small nook for the bins. It was just a clever little solution to a little problem that gets amplified on a project like this.

Walking through the door you’re met with beautiful plywood finishes, and a space that feels generous. When I say ‘generous’, I don’t mean ‘excessive’ in floor area, but rather the use of material, light and vertical height doesn’t make it feel tight. We were shown the husband’s office and the nursery next to it, with joinery doing double-duty in separating the two rooms and providing the ever-important storage. Having a 600mm deep cupboard as your wall creates this beautiful deep threshold, as opposed to the standard 90mm thick stud wall + door we always experience.

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With the “lack” of “outdoor space”, the architect dived into their bag of tricks to compensate for this. The use of green carpet up the stairs and in the bedroom tells our brain, ‘grass!‘. There is a large fish tank with plants growing inside, as well as some vines growing down the metal netting on the staircase. There is a small outdoor area in the point, with some nice built-in seating but the biggest trick the architect did was turning the living space into a large ‘winter garden’. There are two large sliding windows on either side of this living space, which can be opened right up. We opened just one of these windows during the tour and it suddenly changed the way I felt in the space. A cool breeze swept inside, and I could easily imagine myself opening both windows in the summer and it feeling like an outdoor space.

There weren’t too many items that wasn’t built into the house, and for obvious reasons. As a first time guest walking into the kitchen, your first thought would be ‘Where’s the fridge?‘ Don’t worry, it’s there. ‘Okay, where’s the dishwasher?‘ It’s there as well. ‘Oh, what about…‘ It’s there, trust me. With it being such a small site, the architect had to work hard to make use of every millimetre of space. The best example is the built-in couch and entertainment unit in the corner of the living room, which I sat on and was insanely comfortable. If the clients were handed over an empty living room and needed to put their own couch in, I suspect they would frustrated. This isn’t a site that allows you to go to IKEA and put in any couch, due to the angles and the logistics of getting a couch up the tight staircase. It was much more practical, and efficient, to build a lot of these big ticket furniture items into the house. The idea of building in is carried up into the main bedroom, with the bed-frame built in to separate the ensuite behind. To both sides are the wardrobes, built to suit the angles and head-clearances required. The ensuite behind this bed had a toilet, beautiful overhead shower, a bath and vanity, and an amazing view when walking out of the room of Eureka Tower.

If I was to try and find some criticism, it would be the lack of privacy to the main bedroom. For now, with just the parents and a young baby, locking yourself away in a bedroom isn’t required. However when the child gets older, they may want this privacy. However I’m sure if this ever comes up, the architect has a clever solution based on the rest of the house.

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Listening to Fooi-Ling Koo after the tour, she raised some good points about the perception of architects to the public, and how architects should be doing more to reach out. These types of projects really sell the worth of an architect, but the general public aren’t that aware of how useful architects can be. She talked about how great getting involved with Open House Melbourne is, because there is that interaction with the general. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge how great a space is through photographs, and as my friend, Dena said ‘It’s something you have to experience in person’.

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