Darragh O'Brien Masthead

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Renovation of 1970’s split-face block dwelling.

type Private residence
Status Completed 2012

This project was conceived, from the inside-out, as a dark but permeable container of light, perched on top of the mass of block-work walls below.

Internally, a centrally located, timber-clad ‘block’ is the touchstone that physically anchors both levels of the house and its occupants. The passing of time is revealed when cooled sunlight illuminates the timber surface of the stair space, expands down the wall, across the floor and then is gone.


The house was designed to change with the seasons, time of day and the inclination of its occupants. This capacity for change means that the owners can ‘act’ upon and therefore transform their physical environment. They can manipulate function, view, light, air, heat, and spatial flow through the use of full-height moveable walls and louvred windows.


From concept to completion, DOBA worked collaboratively with our clients in order to realise their desire for a flexible home. The project was carefully managed to include 'hold-points' during the construction stage that allowed the clients to participate in the making of 'quantum' design decisions—simulating final occupation from within the partly completed house.


The design enables the family to open up the house, create connections or withdraw into privacy when and where required. Internally, for example, sliding walls afford the moderation of sibling connections in the bedroom area, reflecting personal mood or an age-driven need for privacy. The flow of space, noise and air can be manipulated, but a brief slot of obscured light maintains connections between inside and out. Upstairs, the formal living area in the front of the house can be connected or separated from the casual family room at the rear.

With its uninterrupted, clean lines, the louvred balustrade balances the client’s equal but potentially competitive desires for privacy and connection. Combined with the cantilevered ceiling, the balustrade forms a three dimensional space that frames the panoramic view.


We quickly realised that the client’s need for flexible space could be met without significant demolition of the existing building, allowing us to pursue a rigorous strategy of adaptive re-use.

Floors, walls, roof and existing openings were retained and, although low-performing windows were replaced with double-glazed units and louvred panels, door and window heads were removed to allow space to flow; with roof glazing inserted to illuminate and transform the interior.

The existing open-tread stairs were also retained, along with forty years of notched evidence of previous occupation.

The use of full height glazing on the south wall enabled us to fold the older texture of the neighbouring fabric into the material qualities of the new living space—both houses becoming part-of but also differentiated from the other.

To meet budgetary and spatial limitations, the house was also designed to borrow what it needs; it borrows space by expanding outwards until stopped by the external surfaces of neighbouring walls; it then borrows light, air and view from the bay, sky and city, pulling them all inside.


Principal Architect: Darragh O'Brien

Assistant: Kerry Ward

Photography: Joel Collins