Boonooloo Road Grouped Housing Project, a review

The Architect Magazine

Autumn/Winter 2017

Woods: Reece Currey

Nestled within a quiet cul-de-sac on the outer-suburban fringe of the Darling Scarp is the Boonooloo Road Grouped Housing Project. This recently completed affordable housing project designed by CODA Studio provides a timely example of infill housing which is affordable, flexible and thoughtful.

The surrounding suburban fabric of Kalamunda hosts a series of by-the-numbers infill developments, built in response to zoning changes in recent years. The Boonooloo Road Grouped Housing Project is easily distinguished from typical cookie-cutter infill developments through its innovative courtyard-based planning and deft use of modest materials to craft spaces in which to dwell and delight. The project makes a strong statement of the potential for well designed and flexible housing which provides an exemplar for future affordable housing developments in WA.

CODA Studio has previously undertaken research and practice exploring housing which is responsive, sustainable and meaningful, including built works such as the Building for Diversity project in Northbridge. CODA Studio’s expertise in housing types is clearly evident through the articulation of the courtyard typology in this project. The Boonooloo Road Grouped Housing Project showcases the possibilities for affordable housing guided by clarity of design and a focused architectural response to brief, site and housing type.

The project is composed of four dwellings, each offering slightly different iterations of a courtyard house design. Adjoining units to the north and south sides of the lot are twinned and share many similarities in planning. Connection between the internal courtyard and the living and sleeping spaces is maintained throughout the project, despite the differences in each dwelling’s planning. The consistent material and formal language of the elevations and sensitive internal detailing tie the project together as a whole. A unity of approach to form, material and detailing anchors the project, whilst the four dwellings subtly explore differing approaches to the planning of courtyard housing.

Dark painted timber boards sheath the white textured external walls, constructed of structurally insulated panels. The dark timber cladding provides a framing device which delineates the form along the external parapets and internal street. Interplay between the white external form of the building and the timber cladding defines the external expression of the project. Contrasting in colour, their interaction provides moments of architectonic play most notable at the boundary between the internal street and the courtyards of the southern units; it is here that the lightly-framed timber cladding dances away from the face of the building. Supported by a modest column, this move creates a triangular aperture, the interior of which is painted bright yellow. The movement marks the threshold – a striking example of how modest materials can be skilfully manipulated to create moments of pure delight.

At the gated entry to the courtyards of each of the southern dwellings, the timber boards traverse to the ground; the lightly-framed cladding separating from the primary form of the building to neatly frame the entry. The two southern courtyards form an expanded threshold between the ‘street’ and internal living spaces. Mediating between the social space of the internal street and sheltered spaces of the interior, the courtyards create a privacy buffer whilst allowing the internal spaces to maintain a strong connection to the exterior. Courtyards located within each dwelling provide a north aspect to the attached main living areas, with the courtyards of the twinned units to the south being particularly generous in size. From these courtyards the garages are accessible, containing large rainwater tanks which further enhance the sustainable credentials of the project. Lining the boundary to the courtyards is a bespoke lapped timber fence imbued with charm, which will undoubtedly lead to good neighbourly relations.

Accessed from the courtyard, the brightly painted teal front door of unit 4 leads into the bright, open main living area. Immediately visible is a high window, allowing soft light from the south to enter as the ceiling is carved away to form a raking bulkhead. Negative details at the junctions of the intersecting planes further define the element creating a crafted, atmospheric moment and establishing a resonant presence within the space. Throughout the project, modest materials and a restrained palette are utilised in a thoughtful manner to enhance the internal spaces through a series of well-crafted details. The white-painted brick of the main living area  provides texture to the walls, further augmented by the occasional protruding clinker brick. The interior window reveals are lined with plywood, obscuring the edge of the aluminium window frames and providing a robust yet articulate detail. Plywood skirting boards also provide a clean and resilient edge throughout the home. White paint mutes the natural finish of the skirting in the main living area, harmonising with the painted brick walls.

In each unit the central courtyard forms a pivot around which the spatial planning is generated. The primary living area maintains a strong connection to the courtyard via floor-to-ceiling glazing, shaded by the overhanging roof. A circulation spine leading to the bedrooms and bathrooms clings to the edge of the courtyard. Within this space, generous glazing ensures ample light, ventilation and visual connection between interior and exterior. Windows along the spine afford views across the courtyard to the playful movement of the yellow triangular aperture of the timber cladding, and on towards the internal street and the main living space. The sense of connection between all of these elements is present throughout, transmitted though the lens of the internal courtyard. Separating the bedrooms and bathrooms from the courtyard, the circulation spines of Units 3 and 4 are generous enough in size to be adaptable to the needs of residents.

CODA Studio’s expertise in developing housing typologies which are innovative and flexible is further evident in the provision of capped-off services in the second living space. By infilling a dividing wall, a four bedroom house converts into a three bedroom dwelling with an attached 1 x 1 unit. This inbuilt flexibility allows the housing in the project to respond to various potential living arrangements, with the opportunity for occupancy of the site to be built over time. Diversification of dwelling types within the project in the future has the potential to further develop spatial living arrangements, in which the internal courtyard will remain the hinge. From the open, communal spaces of the internal street and courtyards, to the sheltered, restful spaces of the sleeping quarters, the spatial planning within the project creates gradients of privacy, allowing occupants to dwell as they desire throughout the day.

The Boonooloo Road Grouped Housing Project’s thoughtful planning, and modest, yet sensitively articulated spaces are the result of an approach to affordable housing design which is both innovative and articulate. The project constitutes a considered exploration of the courtyard typology and the possibilities for infill housing which is flexible, sustainable and delightful.