Respectfully Yours

This house was designed and built by its owners, architects Kausar Hukumchand and Sarita Chand, to be a model of ingenuity, affordability and environmental civility. Paul McGillick discovers a bushland refuge in suburban Sydney

14 Apr 2014

Above:The elevated central courtyard with the protective Angophora.

The house is designed around a tree – an 80-year-old Angophora, predicted to live for 200 years. In fact, no trees at all were cut down to build this house. Nor was there any excavation done which might have disturbed the site. Instead, the house sits on a galvanised steel frame, so that it ‘floats’ above the ground, sheltered by its protective Angophora. It wraps around the tree to form a continuous outdoor room with the house spilling out on all four sides to the elevated timber-decked courtyard. “The courtyard,” says Kausar, “was like a sanctuary, because we were both brought up in courtyard houses. So, the courtyard had to be a theme.”

respectfully_yours_1 The north-eastern elevation shows the hinged corner windows.

Originally from Rajasthan in India, Kausar and Sarita have lived in Australia for 20 years and prior to that in Malaysia and Singapore. Kausar works from home as sole practitioner of Core Projects and also teaches in the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of New South Wales. Sarita is a Principal with the prominent practice, Bligh Voller Nield.

respectfully_yours_2 The living/dining area with views out to the guest pavilion.

In many ways, the house is a subtle reinterpretation of traditional Indian architecture for a specific Australian context – for example, the central courtyard, the way in which every room in the house opens out onto the courtyard, even the projecting eaves which are reminiscent of the chhajja, typical of Mughal architecture in areas such as Rajasthan. These eaves provide solar protection, but also extend over the gutters so that rainwater spills into the ground to feed the Angophora. “There are,” Kausar suggests, “a number of cultural things which are built in – they’re subtle.”

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Left: Bric-a-brac in the studio gives added texture.
Right: Kausar’s studio looking toward the entry and living room.

But if we also take into account the interiors of the house, it is very much a marriage of cultures, with traditional Indian elements complementing not just the Australian bush, but indigenous Australian art and modernist European furnishings. Still, there is even more to the story of this house. It is not only a very sustainable house in the sense that it ‘touches the earth lightly’, it is also very sustainable in terms of construction, materials and cost. Kausar and Sarita projectmanaged the job as owner-builders and brought it in at AUD$800/m2 in just eight weeks. As far as size is concerned, the house is only as big as it needs to be, the size being “predicated on the trees”, according to Kausar. Actually, it is quite small, but because of its connection with the outside it gives the impression of ample space. Moreover, a range of creative solutions has, in many places, optimised the available space – for example, the angled dining room wall, which creates additional space for a larder on the other side, or the shared robe and bathroom.

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Left: The second bedroom doubles as a home office.
Right: The living room looking back towards the studio.

Ingenuity and creativity not only minimised cost and optimised space, but produced a house full of incident. It has been, says Kausar, “built from the inside out with windows, for example, designed to capture views”. A good example is the hinged corner window, designed like all the other windows in the house by Kausar himself. The fenestration in general is a constant source of delight precisely because each window is a one-off, each with its own purpose, but collectively creating a visual rhythm – the room-wide windows in the shared bathroom, the skylight over the shower which extends over the internal corridor, the ‘gunslot’ on the northern side drawing light into Kausar’s studio, the juxtaposition of another gunslot and a square window in the living room.

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The entry ramp looking back towards the guest pavilion.

Like the windows, all eight “Aaltoinspired” doors in the house are custom-made and quite different from one another. Each is 1.2 metres wide and basically a standard door with a plywood addition, creating a positive/ negative image. Similarly, the desk in the study is custom-made from plywood.

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Exterior view of living room windows.

Indeed, the house is effectively a case study demonstrating what can be achieved with a simple material like plywood. Plywood is used on the inside and Ecoply for the exterior cladding, with Cedar windows and doors. In plan, an informal internal corridor links all the spaces, although apart from the two bedrooms, the house is effectively open plan; its circulation defined by the wrap-around organisation of the house – and the downlights which act as a guide.

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Guest pavilion.

The main house was built in 1997, but a year ago Kausar and Sarita built a guest pavilion to complement the house. The freestanding, steel-framed, timber-clad pavilion runs at a right-angle to the main house. It floats low over the ground, supported like the main building on a steel frame and approached up timber steps, past a pond (black to reflect the sky and protect the fish from marauding kookaburras) to a timber deck which runs the length of the pavilion. The interior is opened up along its entire length by massive glass doors that slide out to a cantilevered frame.

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Part of Kausar and Sarita’s extensive Aboriginal art collection.

Similar in character to the main building, the guest pavilion also employs similar strategies – slot windows, a skylight in the ensuite, a custom-designed work bench with adjustable legs and a bed which folds up to become part of the joinery.

Effectively, both buildings tend to ‘dematerialise’, with a marked ambiguity between inside and outside. They emerge quietly and respectfully from the site, where the vegetation is left to its own devices without any attempt to create definition through landscaping. Spatially liberated, the two buildings are neither big nor small – but just right for what they need to do.

Photography: Anthony Browell
Note: Anthony Browell’s black and white photographs were taken using a pin-hole camera

Architects:
Kausar Hukumchand, Sarita Chand

Builder
Owner builder

Main Contractor
Redgum Building Services (Mark Newman)

Structural
BHP ‘Quick-a-Floor’

Electrical
Peter McBride

Hydraulics
Ian Birchill

Air-conditioning
Eagle Engineering

Cedar Doors & Windows
Windoor

Walls & Ceilings
Austral Linings

Furniture
Dining chairs are Thonet, thonet.com.au. In the Living Room Artek 41 and 406 armchairs, Stool 60 and Coffee table trolley 901 from Anibou, anibou.com.au. The Noguchi coffee table supplied by Euroform, euroform.net. au. Sofa from Resource (no longer available). Guest pavilion fold-up bed is designed for hospitals and is manufactured by Interfar, interfar.com.au. Italian adjustable legs for study desk and guest pavilion bench from ECC Lighting and Living, ecc.com.au.

Finishes
Exterior cladding is EcoPly ‘Plain’ and ‘Shadowclad’, supplied by Mr Plywood, misterplywood.com.au. Living Room rug is from India, designed by Shaym Ahujha. Roof is Colorbond Mini Orb, bluescopesteel.com.au

Lighting
Dining room pendant is the Louis Poulsen PH5 from Eagle Lighting, eaglelightingsydney. com.au. Akari hanging paper light in Living Room and Akari light sculptures elsewhere in the house are by Isamu Noguchi and not available in Australia.

Art Work
Aboriginal art work sourced from Hogarth Gallery, aboriginalartcentre. com.au, Palya Art, palya-art.com.au, Jinta Art, jintaart.com.au and Aboriginal Art Australia, aboriginal-artaustralia. com.