Berkley Dobson House

Berkley Dobson House

Private Houses
South Melbourne, Australia - Build completed in 2004
Peter Clarke

Berkley Dobson House

Coy Yiontis Architects as Architects

From the street, this 19th century workers cottage appears to be a dwelling typical of its’ suburb. There is no hint of the new home concealed; a feature heightening its’ privacy and the inherent surprise upon entering a strikingly contemporary residence through the humble, heritage façade.


The home is a customized response to the needs of a young, professional couple with no children or pets. As the design evolved, their personalities and lifestyle dictated the organization of the spaces. The breaking of the building into the separate pavilions evolved as a response to imperatives of the authorities, site orientation as well as these needs.


The building comprises three pavilions each with a distinct function, divided from one another by two external courtyards. The first pavilion is accessed through the original street frontage. The façade and front two rooms of the original 19th century workers cottage have been retained and form a gatehouse to the new residence; the front rooms converted to a home office and a guest retreat and isolated from the rest of the house by the first external courtyard.


Upon entry, the house is completely transparent; the eye drawn through to its’ furthest rooms. One walks through what was the original corridor of the cottage along a new timber deck and into the first courtyard, where a linear pond leads the eye through a series of internal and external spaces and into the main home. The water appears to pass under the living room floor and re-emerges in the second courtyard as a plunge pool; the line of the water offsetting the original central axis of the cottage. Whilst introverted and private, the surprising transparency of the home gives the impression of continuous space and spaciousness. An alternative approach to the traditional segregation of spaces has been explored with the internal and external volumes merging through the use of sliding glazed panels and a continuity of building materials. Both the kitchen and the guest ensuite may be fully opened onto the first courtyard. Stepping down the gradually sloping site, the level changes within the building are themselves used as another means of dividing spaces.


Entering the main home via the second pavilion, the hardwood floor defining the entry and the kitchen gives way to travertine and a lower living and entertainment area. This may be completely opened out onto the second external courtyard to extend the living area if weather permits. A suspended timber joinery unit cantilevers over a low strip window and into the corridor bordering this courtyard and leading from this space into the third pavilion; the owners’ private domain for living and sleeping. The only multi storey section of the house, this comprises a master bedroom, ensuite and walk in robe upstairs and a laundry, garage and electronics workshop with a cellar below ground.


All significant internal living spaces have direct access to the outside, usually in the form of an entire wall pivoting or sliding away to link the two spaces and make them one. The kitchen, the two living rooms, the workshop, the master bedroom, and the downstairs guest bathroom whose translucent external wall slides away to allow the bather to enjoy the elements. In the master ensuite, the entire ceiling is glazed to invite in the sky. In the study, the fully glazed southern aspect overlooks the pond and the courtyard. In each case, the sixth side of the cube defining the space has been consciously omitted to forge a link with the outside.


Architects Statement Broken into three separate pavilions, the house is entered through its original workers cottage façade. Upon entry, the house is completely transparent; the eye drawn through via the pool to its furthest rooms giving the impression of one large continuous yet divided space rather than a series of chambers. Inside and outside merge through the use of sliding glazed panels and continuity of building materials. Level changes within the building are used as another means of defining spaces.


The new building is concealed from street view, heightening its privacy and the inherent ‘surprise’ upon entering a contemporary residence through a humble Victorian worker’s cottage facade. The element of surprise is further employed as hidden storage and a guest retreat emerge from behind panelled walls.

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