The usual approach by architects and developers is to demolish and completely rebuild from scratch. However, there are clear advantages to adapting and re-using existing buildings as exemplified by two projects delivered by NTF Architecture. “It can be more efficient working with the existing footprint. It’s also a more sustainable approach,” says architect Brett Nixon, director of NTF Architecture, who worked closely with co-director, architect George Fortey, who also highlights the economic advantages, increasing the return by retaining the original structures, while still adhering to planning guidelines.
Salisbury Townhouses, Blackburn
Located on the edge of the Bellbird Estate, and a short walk from Laburnum Station, these six townhouses started out as 1960s single-bedroom villa units. From humble beginnings the units have been cleverly transformed by NTF Architecture into award-winning townhouses: (winner of an Architecture Award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter), in 2020, in the category of Multiple Housing.
While the now six two-storey townhouses appear completely new, they are in fact an adaptive re-use of the existing units. The ground floor was bagged and painted white, with a first floor addition clad in Kebony, a sustainable timber that requires little or no maintenance and evokes the organic feel of the leafy Bellbird estate. And in keeping with contemporary living, large double glazed windows and bi-fold doors to enclosed courtyards were added. The old kitchens and bathrooms have been updated in the now two-bedroom dwellings, including sleek black laminate kitchens and timber floors in the open plan living areas. And given the function of these townhouses, following the ‘build-to-rent’ model, each abode comes with two separate bathrooms on the first floor to accommodate cohabitation as well as for couples or those with young families. Each unit has effectively been doubled in size, from 50 to 100 square metres, using the original footprint.
Reworked on a tight budget, the architectural detail has been carried through from indoors to out, including a new sense of arrival with an elevated brick plinth and a steel pergola.
“The success can be attributed to taking an old and certainly stale asset and transforming it into something that’s comfortable for today’s standards, maximising the return in the process,” says Fortey. And while cars and the need for garages may have been imperative in the 1960s, today, and in particular for this location, residents make use of the nearby station or bicycles (even though off-street parking has still been maintained, with one car space for each unit). Reworking these dwellings in an economical manner also allows these homes to remain affordable to rent for residents. Not surprisingly, there was a quick uptake when this development was completed, a result that led to the next project, with the same client, but in a different location.
View Salisbury Townhouses, Blackburn
The client for the Salisbury townhouses in Blackburn was so pleased with the outcome they decided to embark on another project with NTF Architecture. While the Blackburn property had been in the client’s family for many years, NTF’s architects who thought that there were certain similarities between the two and brought the Kew site to their attention.
Both sets of dwellings were constructed in the same decade and both were fairly basic properties in idyllic locations. In the case of the Blackburn townhouses, an additional level was added. Here, two levels were added, with the ground level rendered to ensure the homes are crisp and contemporary. And rather than six, the Kew units came to four. Aimed at a slightly different rental market, the finishes and fitting are a notch or two above standard.
What were two-bedroom units will be transformed into three-bedroom townhouses: one bedroom on the top level, with its own bathroom, along with a second and third bedroom and bathrooms at ground level. The middle level has been given over to the open plan kitchen, dining and living areas, leading to a generous north-facing terrace.
Benefitting from a laneway along the property’s northern edge, together with an established Norfolk Pine in a neighbouring yard, there will be both a verdant edge and sense of tranquility. And given the many surrounding large homes in the streetscape, these townhouses have been thoughtfully conceived to resemble a large home.
“We were conscious of the surrounding homes and the need to create something that felt nestled into this environment,” says NTF’s architect George Fortey, pointing out the intended raised garden bed across the front of the property and the setback of the second floor.
With a quieter property market expected for the next few years, this pattern of holding on to assets and making them work in the current market is paramount. And while the Blackburn townhouses were already a family asset, this latest development came from NTF Architecture’s expertise, preparing a feasibility study for the same client before they purchased it. “We can work out the square metreage and the costs involved so a rational decision can be made,” says architect Brett Nixon.
View Townhouses, Kew