d+a – Hillview Crescent

d+a Issue 005/2001/02

Expressly Detailed
Several factors had to be considered by HYLA Architects in the design of this house at Hillview Crescent. Among these were its proximity to a main road; its relationship with the neighbouring house; and to some extent, its orientation with the east-west path of the sun. The architect’s task was to reconstruct the semi-detached house, previously a mirror image of the adjacent house. Rather than reconstruct the house as independent of everything around it, the architect took careful note of its context and expressed explicitly the new constructions as extensions of and in proportion with the former house.

As Jerome Charignon, a member of the design team at HYLA says: ‘This is the concept I fight with myself to keep to (in this project). You cannot just do a very big cheesecake here and don’t care about the neighbour! You simply cannot erase the context.’

The house was previously one of the two that were built to look like one. Its triangular site, at the corner of two roads, gave it a bigger garden and greater possibilities for extensions than its immediate neighbour could have. Says Charignon, ‘the house was oriented east-west; the re-design changed this to south-north.’

Two wall planes on one side of the house, expressed in very attractive sandstone, are pushed out in widths staggered according to the site. This is clearly discernible externally. ‘While on the outside you see just the extensions of two walls, all the rooms inside are doing the link between the old and new.’ The rooms and main areas are reconfigured sideways into larger spaces, their lengths and widths are thus re-orientated. At the back of the house, where the narrowest part of the site is, the extension, a small square block with a balcony, is expressed with a ‘groove joint’.

As the house is right next a very noisy road, the windows of these side extensions are placed at the front and back, so that the rooms will not face the road directly. The client had wanted pool views for all the second storey rooms but this was mindful of the site’s situation, as well as the issue of privacy. Nevertheless, minor fenestrations at the second storey were etched onto the extended walls of sandstone, which also helped mediate the surfaces of these otherwise massive planes.

That the house was consciously redesigned in the context of its origins is evident in its pitch roofs of existing tiles. In the car porch, for instance, instead of being replaced, the existing pitch roof over it was slightly widened to maintain continuity with the adjacent house. The dimensions for the front façade windows too were measured off that of next door so that ‘the new house will continue to have a relationship with the adjacent house – rather than to deny it.’

Internally, remnants of the previous house in the form of the original beams are visibly maintained, so that ‘the new are architecturally expressed as being integrated with the old’. As intended, the ‘little details’ such as these beams, and even the way the marble slabs are laid on the living room floor, are to show where the previous house ends, and where the new continues.

A most striking spatial feature is the triple-height staircore. The wall is textured in a special green finish to express the full height of the house. At the apex of the wall is a roof skylight that emphasises its soaring height. A pond at the base of the staircore creates another layer, a virtual one, through its water reflections.

This soaring verticality is horizontally balanced by an implied ‘corridor’ on the first storey and a more defined one on the second storey, that run parallel to this wall along the length of the house. The ‘corridor’ on the first storey starts at the front door from the car porch, where one can see a clear path right through the doorways into the kitchen and utility and the backyard beyond. The second connects the master bedroom at the front with the bedroom at the extended block behind.

All the details in this house are carefully thought out and intensely rationalised; whimsy has no part in its design. ‘The client was keen to invest in good quality architecture. He was really open to a lot of things,’ says Charignon. Initially, the client was not quite able to fully visualise what HYLA was trying to do, and so was ‘at first quite resistant with the budget.’ But, as the house steadily took shape, he could see it better and so became a little more willing to spend!’

Interior photographs: CI&A
Exterior photographs: T Max and Jerome Charignon