Knutsford / Stage 1 by spaceagency architects
Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing: Frederick Romberg Award
Australian Institute of Architects
In what was, at the time of construction in Western Australia, an inflated building industry, the incredibly low construction budget made Knutsford immediately stand out as a project that needed to be visited. What then emerged as a clear category winner was a highly unusual form of multiresidential housing, underpinned by factors so rarely sought in this category – namely context, community and belonging. The mid-density, low-rise model is commendable for the care and restraint exercised by the architects in what would typically be edge-to-edge, McMansion-style housing. The delicate site planning revolves around a series of dissecting laneways and courtyards. Instead of the typical street frontage of garage doors and crossovers, the laneways enable cars to be buried deep within the centre and therefore allow liveable areas and outdoor patios to engage directly with the street. The resulting network of internal streets carved deep into the blocks creates a suburban setting where you could imagine children practising their fast bowl or stab passing a Sherrin.
Occasionally adopting a zero setback, and using a series of generously proportioned courtyards and terraces, the architect has ensured that each apartment/townhouse has equal access to northern light. A series of stepping walls and brick volumes creates an instant neighbourhood landscape, designed to bring light deep into the floor plates but also retracting in places to open up dwellings almost entirely to the street. The rambling white brick and recycled concrete blocks follow the gentle terrain, masking what would usually be a tabula rasa benched site. The architects are not precious about how the occupants change the dwellings’ identity. They are almost factory shells, ready to be occupied and influenced by those who inhabit them, a fact made evident by the galvanized pipe framework that tempts inhabitants to drape bamboo screens or other found objects over it for sun protection.