First house: Clare Cousins Architects

Clad in pleated copper, this addition to a Federation-era house was the first “real” commission for architect Clare Cousins, who reflects on how projects like this one went on to become a staple for the practice.

Starting my practice was a leap of faith. For many architects, the impetus to go it alone comes from a significant commission, but this wasn’t the case for me. I didn’t have one great project tempting me to start my own practice, but rather the odd kitchen and bathroom renovation for friends of friends. I don’t remember the moment I decided to establish Clare Cousins Architects, but I do remember always feeling sure that I would.

Starting a practice in 2005 was vastly different from doing so today. The fax machine was a key business tool and social media was in its infancy. Back then, by the time a house was built, photographed and published in a magazine, it was often three to four years before a completed project won you subsequent commissions. At the time, I didn’t have any architect friends practicing for themselves, which made for a rather isolating experience. How times have changed – I’m privileged to be part of a wonderfully collegiate community of architects, not just in my hometown but also Australia-wide, thanks to platforms like Instagram that keep us in touch with each other’s work.

The junction between old and new is readily experienced and legible.

The junction between old and new is readily experienced and legible.

Image: Shannon McGrath

For the first few years, all of our work came from word of mouth. You could never predict where the next call would come from. This was no different for our first “real” commission. Our client had been a trade representative who used to call in at Wood Marsh Architecture, where I had previously worked. She had heard that I had gone out on my own and was looking for an architect to renovate a period house on a tight, inner-suburban site, the type of project that was to become our staple for the next ten years.

Located on the corner of a bluestone-cobbled lane, the Federation-era house was to be the home for the client’s future family. In the brief, they noted their love of weathered steel cladding, like that used in Wood Marsh’s Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) building in Melbourne’s Southbank. Our response to the brief, the compressed context and the surrounding laneway fences of corrugated steel was to skin the new addition in pleated copper. The copper would patina over time and complement the tones of the red brick Federation house, while offering a more delicate finish than that of weathered steel.

The living spaces in the new structure are located where there are better opportunities for exapansive glazing.

The living spaces in the new structure are located where there are better opportunities for exapansive glazing.

Image: Shannon McGrath

I’m drawn to corner sites where the junction between old and new can be more readily experienced and legible. In these projects, the passer-by often benefits from the exterior composition more than the homeowner, for whom the interior is the primary experience. For this reason, we extended the copper cladding below the ground-floor soffit to enable an internal experience of the pleated skirt that frames the courtyard garden outlook.

As in many of our projects, the living spaces in the new structure are located where there are better opportunities for expansive glazed connections that draw occupants into the landscape. Children’s bedrooms are housed in the first-floor addition and utility zones are pushed to the southern boundary of the ground floor to prioritize natural light and ventilation for living areas. A room in the original house adjacent to the new kitchen serves as the dining room, creating a slightly more formal arrangement than we would typically design, but one that suited the client’s needs.

A room in the original house adjacent to the new kitchen serves as a formal dining room, which suits the clients’ needs.

A room in the original house adjacent to the new kitchen serves as a formal dining room, which suits the clients’ needs.

Image: Shannon McGrath

For a first house, the project ran pretty smoothly and was a lesson in diplomacy, particularly given the client’s father was executing the build and I was tasked as the messenger. Looking back, I can see my tentativeness in some of the project’s resolution, and it reminds me that with experience comes confidence and conviction.

Open-minded clients having faith in a young architect is a great thing. For the small fee we charged at the time, they certainly got bang for their buck, but they also took on more risk working with us rather than a more experienced architect. For me, what is ultimately most apparent about this early experience is the optimism my client and I shared about the project.

Our response to their brief, the compressed context and the surrounding laneway fences of corrugated steel was to skin the new addition in pleated copper.

Credits

Architect
Clare Cousins Architects
Melbourne, Vic, Australia
Project Team
Clare Cousins, Henry Tinsley, Fooi Ling Khoo, Deborah Rowe
Consultants
Builder Primad
Engineer George Apted & Associates
Site details
Location Melbourne,  Vic,  Australia
Site type Suburban
Category Residential
Type Alts and adds, Revisited / first house
Project Details

Source

Project

Published online: 29 Jan 2020
Words: Clare Cousins
Images: Shannon McGrath

Issue

Houses, October 2019

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