Melbourne, Australia – Within the particularly tough hell of Melbourne real estate, a family has decided to do the unthinkable: use their own residential space to create a public park, to be shared with the community.
That’s the gist of the King Bill House, a private project by Austin Maynard Architects, located in the suburb of Fitzroy. The original dwelling was built around 1850, and was one of the few terrace houses still standing in the neighbourhood. The owners consolidated a surrounding plot into the property, thus adding a garden to a complex that also includes a stable and a pavilion that houses common areas.
With this much surrounding space, the family of four that inhabits the house rejected the idea of turning the 500-sq-m project into a gigantic McMansion. Quite the contrary: due to the architectural importance of the residence, they turned to creating a public garden on the vacant plot, as a way to share the heritage with the Fitzroy community. 'They wanted more living space but had no intention of maximising economic yield by creating a huge home,' explained Andrew Maynard and Mark Austin. 'Instead, they sought to give back to the suburb they love through a rich and generous garden.'
If you want to bring an old building back to life, you do something vibrant so it doesn’t become a museum piece
Fitzroy has, historically, appreciated architectural diversity. Since its creation, the suburb has seen its share of brick terrace homes, post-war stud-veneer homes and repurposed factories, as well as one of the jewels of Australian neo-classicism, the Fitzroy Town Hall. That eclecticism informed the renovation, which turned out to be an exercise in contrasts: a glass pavilion sits next to dark masonry walls; the disheveled stable kept its brick walls but was outfitted with zincalume and turned into a garage and a study; the angular lines of the original residence are embraced by the curves achieved with corrugated Colorbond steel, which provides shade and guides rain water in the stable and creates a visually enticing round structure in the pavilion.
'Fitzroy is not nostalgic about its heritage: it engages with it,' said Maynard and Austin. 'If you want to bring an old building back to life, you do something vibrant so it doesn’t become a museum piece. King William Street is a wonderful example of Fitzroy’s eclecticism, [so] King Bill is a collage of its built history, its textures, its forms, its order and its chaos.'
And then there’s the garden itself: instead of clearing the ornamental pear and silver birch trees that occupied the site, the architectural team took great care to save them and integrate them into the landscape design. Originally hidden behind a tin fence, the space is now a welcome pocket of greenery in Fitzroy.
Instead of asking for more, as is usually the case with large residential renovations, the clients and the architects asked themselves how much was just enough – and, in the process, redefined their own ideas of the public and the private.