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Duplex Design: When Two Is Better Than One

Duplex Design: When Two Is Better Than One

These six duplex developments demonstrate that liveability, natural light and stand-out street appeal needn’t be sacrificed for space or yield.

A duplex isn’t traditionally known for its architectural ingenuity – often dark, enclosed and of somewhat stock-standard design. But these duplexes are undoubtedly different. Despite the constraints of their sites, these duplexes maximise liveability with light-filled spaces that are connected to their surroundings and have stand-out street appeal.

Binoculars, Assembly Architects Limited, Queenstown

Binoculars, designed by Assembly Architects Limited, is a tall, mirror-image duplex with bold cantilevered balconies that focus squarely on the view of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. The duplex is the clients’ holiday home, as well as providing short- and long-term accommodation options for their family and friends. “The bedroom and bathroom arrangements are different per side, and the apartments have distinctively different character due to the sun access, and the inhabitants,” explain Louise and Justin Wright of Assembly.

At the front, the entrances are framed at the centre of the duplex to form a meeting point. A naturally lit staircase leads to bedrooms and bathrooms with colourful finishes on the middle level and open-plan living on the top floor. The dining rooms open to the rear courtyards, which are connected by a gate for shared parties. The kitchens are central and social; the cozy lounge rooms face south to the balcony and Lake Wakatipu, and gently sloping ceilings also draw focus to that spectacular view.

Photography by Simon Devitt

Assembly Architects Limited


Lake Weyba, Robinson Architects, Noosa

Designed by Robinson Architects, Lake Weyba Duplex in the Noosa hinterland has a feeling of separation between the two houses. Sited on a corner, they have entrances on different streets, turn their back on each other and are distinctly designed for natural light and ventilation. The owner/builder intended to live in one three-bedroom duplex with his young family, and to sell the other two-bedroom duplex for profit. “The brief was to create a functional and uplifting place for the clients to live. We saw it as an opportunity to break with the standard duplex mould,” says Jolyon Robinson.

Rejecting the mirror-image approach, Robinson Architects created a single building that presents as two houses. They are connected with a party wall on the ground floor and separated by a narrow void on the first floor. Their asymmetrical volumes respond to the orientation, while their form and material palette unites them. Black aluminium screens provide privacy from the street and protect the interior from sun. Living space is maximised, with no hallways, and internal voids allow for high ceilings, natural daylight and views.

Photography by Alain Bouvier

Robinson Architects


3 Houses Marrickville, David Boyle Architect, Sydney

3 Houses Marrickville provides a model for respectfully increasing density in inner-city suburbs. David Boyle Architect converted a large corner block in Marrickville into three properties by dividing a two-storey house into a duplex and building a new house fronting the street behind. “It provides an example of how urban consolidation of larger suburban blocks can be achieved with contemporary design sympathetic to surrounding built form,” says David Boyle.

An existing Federation house had been substantially altered with an ungainly upper storey. David resolved these unsympathetic additions and reconciled the front of the building to create separate-looking dwellings within a singular form. Inside, he carefully stitched a new party through the building to create two terrace-like homes – one with four bedrooms, and the other with three. Removing some of the walls at the rear of the building allowed for open-plan living spaces and the footprint to be extended. The living areas now spill out to covered decks connected to the garden.

The new timber-clad house at the rear of the site has a U-shaped plan around a central courtyard to respect the streetscape of single-storey detached houses.

Photography by Brett Boardman

David Boyle Architect


Masuto, Jamison Architects, Melbourne

Masuto in Aberfeldie, Melbourne, provides a comfortable and healthy living environment and a positive contribution to the streetscape. The client wanted to downsize to a smaller home and engaged Jamison Architects to design a duplex with one house for their family, and one house to be sold. “They wanted a home that was architecturally unique, functional, practical and met all their needs for family life,” says Mark Jamison.

The duplex faces south to the street, with rear living spaces to the north. Central courtyards, blockwork blade walls and full-height glazing allows light to flood in and provides a connection to the landscape and privacy from neighbours. The courtyard, a two-storey void and slightly splayed hallway also allow the space to expand horizontally and vertically, opening up the elongated plan.

The kitchen and dining area at the centre of the house is where the family love to cook, entertain and share meals with family and friends. Entertaining also spills outside with the pool and alfresco dining. Bedrooms, bathrooms, a study and family room are upstairs, with lots of practical storage, and materials and finishes unifying the interior and exterior.

Photography by Derek Swalwell

Jamison Architects


A&M, Marston Architects, Sydney

The A&M houses are built on the site of a former single-storey home in Fairlight, Sydney. Marston Architects wanted to design a duplex with a modest footprint, plenty of natural light and views. “Conceptually, the A&M Houses have been an experiment in drawing a relationship and balance between a reduced footprint, comfortable living and maximised amenity,” says Vivianne Marston, principal of Marston Architects.

The mirror homes are linear in nature. Skylights, undulating roof lines and a central internal patio bring light, views and outdoor connection, creating a greater sense of spaciousness on the elongated site. Skylights illuminate and cast shadows across the white waxed-stucco party wall, which reflects and refracts light; central internal patios allow northern sunlight into the south-facing living areas, and large openings and limestone flooring create generous and seamless connections from indoors to out. The sense of space is further enhanced with built-in timber joinery and furniture, and sliding timber screens, frosted glass and linen curtains in place of fixed internal doors, allowing spaces to be opened up or closed down.

Photography by Katherine Lu

Marston Architects


Bluebird Duplex, Altereco , Victoria

Bluebird Duplex designed by Altereco is far from confined, with allotment size of more than 400 square metres and a fresh, colourful and bright interior. The duplex in Barwon Heads is a single-storey mirrored design with independent street frontage and minimal party walls. “We respected the predominantly single-storey streetscape and created intimate spaces that are filled with natural light,” says James Goodlet of Altereco. The clients are photographers that Altereco has a long-standing relationship with. “We were super excited, knowing that they are adventurous by nature and we could reflect that in the style,” James says.

Each townhouse has a study at the front to provide a buffer from the street, three bedrooms down the hallway, and the open-plan living area at the rear. An internal courtyard brings light, ventilation and nature into the centre of the house, and a skillion roof with high windows allows natural light into the living area. The material palette is light and playful with a colourful laminate and plywood kitchen and black stained timber lining boards.

Photography by Nikole Ramsay



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Rebecca Gross is a design historian and freelance researcher and writer specialising in design, architecture and visual culture. From her base in Sydney she studies cultural history through the lens of architecture and design and holds a Masters in the History of Decorative Arts and Design (Parsons School of Design), a Bachelors in Marketing (University of Otago). Rebecca has more than fifteen years experience in the industry.