downsizing, not downgrading

In this edition we consider architectural design solutions for small spaces and present a recently completed commercial project.

downsizing, not downgrading

It’s often touted as a ‘trend’ that Australian culture is adapting to the common concept of living within a smaller footprint.

It’s not only a cultural shift but a case of necessity given the rise of cost to purchase a square metre of property within most urban areas, particularly in relation to apartments, whether they be newly built or renovated mid-century apartments.

1 - General

When we get real about downsizing, the ‘home truth’ is that we aren’t prepared to lose out across the board.  Most clients (and the market) still desire inclusions typical in houses and it should be reasonable to request such things as heated towel rails or a washing machine for example.  Incorporating such common items successfully in small spaces provides opportunities for Architects to approach the design in a unique and creative way.

The 41 spare metre Royston Street apartment is one of 32 identical units within a 1930’s Art Deco building in Darlinghurst.  The apartment block is one of the first concrete constructions of this building type in Sydney and as such uses concrete beams to span between parti-walls thus allowing free reign over the non-loading infill walls.

The project essentially included a redesign of the existing bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living area, initiating small moves to maximize space in all three dimensions and satisfying the specific brief the end user.

entry and kitchen

2 - Kitchen Joinery

Each element of the design has been carefully considered to maximize storage and functionality.  Walls between the kitchen, entry, and living area were demolished and adjacent to the entry, a 750 millimeter deep ‘wall’ of joinery replaces the unusable rendered brick.  The joinery houses large and small kitchen and laundry appliances, pantry, and storage cupboards accessed from both sides, depending on their use.

3 - Kitchen

Within the 2.1 metre by 2.4 metre galley style area, a limestone topped bench wide enough for a chopping board and with cupboard space enough to house wine bottles, delineates the kitchen from the living area.  Open shelves above the opposite work surface provide storage without encroaching on eye-level head space.


4 - Living

The inbuilt joinery within the living area comprises long timber shelves, floating between engaged concrete columns.  Media outlets are hidden beneath allowing space between the lounge suite and TV screen to double as the pathway to the bedroom.  This further allows room behind the lounge for a dining table to sit under the large, steel-framed window, an original feature of the apartment.

bedroom and bathroom

5 - Bathroom

There are only two doors in this one bedroom apartment and both were replaced with full height, oversized, surface-mounted sliding panels.  The bedroom panel stays open predominately and can sit against the wall, giving a greater sense of space.  Removal of the swinging bathroom door allows for a more efficient reconfiguring of the wet area’s fixtures.

6 - Robe

Purpose-built vanity shelving, a concealed cistern doubling as a tiled shelf , and a shower opening just big enough to walk through (and no bigger) allows depth enough for hanging items without limiting any blockage of natural light from the windows.

7 - General

The apartment’s material palette is purposefully restrained bar the dark contrast of the sliding panels and entry joinery emphasizing the 3 metre high ceilings.  Limited joinery opportunities mean bespoke offerings, perfectly suited to existing dimensions and materiality across the floor plan.

Downsizing while maintaining the key elements of a contemporary brief can be successful and satisfying and positions Architects in shaping innovative design solutions to specific requests…So where did we put that wine rack?!…

9 - General

Written by Keiran Brooks, Associate at Webber Architects (Sydney Office)


university of newcastle hunter building office

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Webber Architects was commissioned by the University of Newcastle Facilities Management to undertake internal refurbishments and alterations and additions to an existing undercroft within the Hunter Building (previously Engineering workshops).  The brief was to relocated 40 Student Services staff members from several satellite offices across the campus to one central open plan office space.

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The internal layout, finishes and fittings reflect the University’s current requirements for innovative workplace spaces by utilizing breakout areas, quiet spaces, meeting areas, and individual workstations to entice staff members to interact when previously they had not worked closely together.  Schematic design defined the brief by utilizing ‘Work Café, ‘Meeting Commons’, ‘Nomadic Hub’, and ‘Social Hub’ principles throughout the open plan office.

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Projects of this nature, backed by tested theory and research of office environments, ensure successful outcomes and efficiency in design.  Environmental priniciples incorportated include external solar shading devices; increased natural light levels; and improved cross flow ventilation, where sliding doors allow up to 50% of the wall area to be operable.

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Documentation and authority approvals were undertaken in stage packages to allow commencement of construction during preparation of the interior concepts in order to meet program constraints.

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Cost effective furniture and joinery selections, prefabricated elements such as the internal access stair, and retention of the exposed coffered ceiling were incorporated in the design to allow the space to be decanted and materials and elements recycled or reused in the future since it is likely the function of the space will change as the campus expands.

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