First House: Tzannes Associates

The Henwood House, now almost thirty years old, was one of Alec Tzannes’s first completed projects. The design of the house tackled the inherent restraints of the terrace typology and the project established some of the practice’s key philosophies and approaches.

The Henwood House was the first of a series of townhouses designed by Tzannes Associates for inner-urban areas of Sydney. These houses have consistently delivered high standards of residential accommodation on relatively small sites, sometimes on areas smaller than 150 square metres. This building type has developed into a specialized and valued focus of our practice.

The Henwood House project demonstrated that within a modest brief and the inherent constraints of the terrace typology, there can be opportunity to explore innovative design concepts around space utilization, natural light, noise abatement, privacy, courtyard living, environmental performance and spatial experience. The architecture provided close to double the floor area of comparable precedents (or what was permitted under development controls) and showed spatial ingenuity that included high ceilings and more courtyard and landscaped open space.

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The cross-section was designed to enable northern sunlight to penetrate into the centre of the house, as well as allow winter solar access to external terraces and the courtyard. Fully accessible ducts to building services are combined with storage and designed to provide an acoustic barrier from external street noise to the main spaces of the home. Privacy to and from adjoining properties was a key factor that established the relative levels, boundary wall design and external arrangement of the masonry to loggias. The accommodation requirements are organized into three distinct levels to support family life. The ground level provides living and working areas, the middle level caters to children and the top level is dedicated to sleeping and amenity areas for adults.

The house combines three spatial types, the first of which is demonstrated in the sequence of rooms leading to the private courtyard – each is articulated by height, proportion and light. The second spatial type is seen in the stair area, and is characterized by the penetration of light and construction detail. The third is in the top two levels, which are partly in the roof zone and linked onto loggias and a terrace. The architecture aims to provide a flexible, calm and practical environment for urban living using the organization of the building, the construction and the materials as the basis for the development of distinctive external and internal characters.

The Henwood House successfully challenged planning controls and provided built evidence to support consequent local planning changes that would better assist innovative architectural design in the area. An important part of the design process was the precise determination of the physical characteristics of the adjoining properties, including the public domain, to underpin the proposition that the architecture was sympathetic to the physical and social characteristics of the neighbourhood. This approach involved the integration of urban design, planning and landscape disciplines with architecture (including environmental, building and material technology). It contributed to the development of a distinctive residential design process and, ultimately, to the profile of the practice.

The Henwood House won the RAIA Robin Boyd Award for Residential Buildings in 1988.

This project was first published in Houses 89 as part of the First House series where architects revisit their first built commission.


Chippendale, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Builder ANF Constructions
Site details
Location Sydney,  NSW,  Australia
Category Residential buildings
Type Houses
Project Details
Status Built



Published online: 1 Dec 2012
Words: Alec Tzannes
Images: David Young, Scott Frances


Houses, December 2012

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