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A prefab architecture: the Ivanhoe extension

Architect and PhD

The South-Eastern part of Australia, where the climate is more temperate, hosts cities such as Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Newcastle and Sydney which have grown considerably during the last century, conveying an idea of modern cities, resembling more American models rather than European ones.

The secular European cities, where historic stratification has produced a compact urban structure in both the vertical and the horizontal direction, are often characterized by an architecture of intersection, transformation and continuous juxtaposition of parts. Whereas, the Australian cities, where first developments had not dealt with space issues, have expanded in accordance with a logic based on the addiction of elements, assembled along a horizontal direction.

Hence, while in Europe multi-storey buildings are present in every zone of the city, even the most peripheric, in Australia, outside the business and touristic centre, it is quite common to find huge neighbourhoods, which often become the outskirts, composed only by single-family dwellings.

This is the case of Ivanhoe, near Melbourne, where, despite few public and commercial buildings, the representative Australian house here becomes the constructional type par excellence, able to mark the urban rhythm. Realized with a single level wood structure and a sloping roof, the Australian house always has a backyard and a front one, where the main entrance is highlighted by a small shelter.

The Ivanhoe extension by Modscape, a company which designs and realizes prefabricated modular buildings, consists in the addition of a two-storey building – completely produced off-site – to a traditional house.

The Ivanhoe modules have been assembled in just one day, as the site preparation, the utility setup (power, water, sewerage) and the demolition operation had been previously done. After that, just a couple of weeks were necessary for the completion of the construction. In fact, thanks to the prefabricated modular system, it is possible to optimize the building process, which, in this case, starts with the design and ends with the arrangement of furniture.

The speed of implementation is just one of the prefabrication advantages. In fact, both the cost of construction – which is well controlled because all the design issues must be resolved before starting the module realization – and the risk of delay (usually due to weather conditions and unforeseeable circumstances) are considerably reduced.

The attention to detail, which visibly characterizes the building process, is evident also in the architectural development of the project. The extension is linked to the old house through a double-height entrance, which also has the aim of providing a clear separation between the new building and the existing one. The separation is also highlighted by a slight change of levels, caused by the sloping site. However, a sense of continuity is granted by the oak flooring, present in both houses.

However, the real protagonist of the entrance and of the open space including the kitchen, living and dining room, is the Australian light, which is one of the essential beauty characteristics of the country.

The open space, which overlooks the backyard with a large glass window, is protected from the sunlight by the projecting volume of the first floor. This volume also defines a covered space outside, which is an essential element derived from the Australian building tradition. Besides providing a shady area on sunny days, the “porch” creates a relation of continuity with the backyard which is conceived as a private space, an extension of a house’s interior, and this is the reason why in many cases it is enclosed by high fence. The spatial and visual connection with the external area is also granted by cornerless sliding doors, which ensure a seamless transition to the garden.

The heart of the open space and, actually, of the whole house, is the kitchen. From the beginning the client’s will focused on this space, which is carefully designed in its layout and finishes, with the aim of having a place for the family to socialise and spend time together.

The first floor hosts the master bedroom and a study, both facing South. The South façade is completely covered with timber which starts to curve in front of the bedroom, becoming a sunscreen and an element of formal characterization. Great accuracy is also put in designing passive and active environmental systems which include, besides the sunscreen mentioned above, solar passive heating and cross ventilation, double glazing with thermal break frames, over insulation, a rainwater tank, energy efficient lighting, water efficient fixtures and reverse cycle heating and cooling alongside a gas fireplace.

Moreover, the prefabricated dry constructive system of the house guarantees a reduction of waste material, making the whole building process more sustainable.

Today prefabrication is linked to the concept of eco-efficiency, obtained through an optimization of the industrialized process, the utilization of sustainable materials and the energy consumption reduction. However, the prefabrication has a long history of development in Australia, as in all ex-British colonies. The Crown used to send entire houses and other facilities already built in the European style to the colonies, in order to speed up the urban settlement of the new cities. The intelligence of this building system caused its rapid growth and soon it was wisely utilized by local people. Nevertheless, history teaches us that is not easy to master the prefabrication process, which requires a specific design approach, able to transform modular elements in a unique entity.

With the Ivanhoe extension, the first Australian project proudly reported by Compasses, Modscape shows that it is possible to realize an architecture using a real industrialized process and reinterpreting, at the same time, the Australian knowledge in a contemporary building, also paying special attention to the environmental issue.



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