House for BEES
House for BEES
Downie North Architects
Downie North Architects
Academy Tiles, B&b Italia, Brio, Di Lorenzo, Jatana Interiors, Prefa, Portugal Cork
Wrightson & Co
Catherine Downie, Daniel North
Driven by shared values of connectedness, site-specificity, place-making, and passive design, House for BEES encompasses a refined addition directly connected to the garden.
An acronym of the clients’ names and a reference to their native bee hive, House for BEES is a moniker that encapsulates the client-focused, collaborative design process and outcome for a family of four to their Federation home and garden in Mosman.
Conceived as a garden room, the design directly grounds and orients the occupants toward their garden. Kitchen, living, and dining spaces are lightly contained by a floating roof, folded to capture northern light and facilitate the capture of easterly breezes.
Structural simplicity and legibility dissolve the southern and eastern edges, with banks of sliding doors fully retracting to enable a seamless connection with the garden.
THE CLIENT & BRIEF
Sarah and Evan, parents to Barney and Eddie, approached Downie North to create a new addition to their single-level Federation-era home in Mosman.
The rear of the house, which would form the focus of the design, originally contained a small kitchen and meals areas, a pseudo playroom, and laundry.
As avid cooks and entertainers, they sought to create a large kitchen and informal dining and family area that supported a ‘no fuss’, casual approach to living that engendered a sense of ease. Very importantly, they sought a design that made the most of its aspect and environs so that they could passively operate the house throughout the year.
THE SITE & CONSTRAINTS
Understanding the house within the greater context of Mosman and Sydney Harbour, the site benefited from an unusually deep backyard and position near the top of the ridgeline, which would have originally been a processional spine for the Cammeraygal and Borogegal peoples.
Coastal breezes were enjoyed and could be harnessed. Neighbors were close by but staggered relative to the original house, affording greater privacy than would normally be enabled in suburbia and providing opportunities to borrow views from established trees and gardens.
The backyard, however, faced south, complicating opportunities for winterly northern solar gain along with some damp and drainage issues, given the proximity to the bedrock. Page of 1 2 There was a financial and environmental imperative to retain the majority of the existing Federation-era home, with minor modifications and repairs undertaken to the front rooms, which contain the bedrooms, wet areas, and formal living room.
THE ARCHITECTURAL RESPONSE
Observing how the family enjoyed living in the garden, the design sought to replicate that - at its simplest, the house is like a picnic rug laid under a protective canopy.
With north to the street and with the existing house sited and addressing that frontage, the rear addition was positioned as close to the western boundary as was feasibly allowed under the instrument of CDC to minimize the impact to the eastern and southern gardens and established trees.
This allowed for the main path of circulation to be maintained along the existing corridor and spine of the house, which encourages direct movement out into the garden.
Stepping up from the original level of the house to address the slope and minimize excavation, including disturbance of topsoil, the kitchen, dining, and family areas commune directly with the garden.
Four architectural components - a wall - the protective back, a screen, the open front, a platform, and a roof, create precise yet elemental inhabitation. This creates an immediate connection to nature, as suggested by the minimal shelter of a camp site.
The masonry wall and its ancillary servant spaces of the kitchen and pantry create the protective back, featuring a lower roof, discreet openings, and smaller proportions, both as a result of its function and in accordance with setbacks.
Comparatively, the public or served spaces of dining and living are lightly contained by the fully retractable sliding doors, which directly commune with the garden and are topped by the folded roof plane which cranks up to the north to capture winter northern light (whilst excluding summer thermal gain), and also extends to the east to contain the monsoon eave.
The folded roof plane acts like a wing, creating lift as air moves over the ridge. The concealed ventilation in the eaves then drags this air inside the house, passively cooling irrespective of the weather.
With a focus on craftsmanship, materials were selected for their longevity, sustainability, and potential future re-use. Keeping a large portion of the existing building and minimizing the extent of the build, the budget was able to be selectively focused. The client supported the investment of the budget in more expensive elements like the standing seam roofing and balanced this with the use of reclaimed materials, personally hand-cleaning bricks, salvaging joinery, fixtures, and fittings from the house, or purchasing second-hand.
The structure, in particular the steel, has been refined to a minimum to create a material lightness and reduced carbon footprint. It was important to create structural simplicity and legibility so as not to get in the way of a strong connection to the garden.
In addition to its lightness of footprint, material reuse, and passive operation, the house benefits from 18kW of solar panels and two 5000L rainwater tanks to irrigate the garden.
The working edible garden features fruit trees, including native lime, olive, and peach trees, warrigal greens, herbs, and flowering plants, which provide food, along with shade and habitat to native fauna and have been well adopted by native birds and the namesake bees.