The Empire House – Canberra

The Australian capital is home to some of the best examples of post-war and modernist architecture in the country. The Empire House is located in a culturally significant and important area of the city, on a ring-road that forms part of architect Walter Burley Griffin’s masterplan. The houses here are a product of an aspirational time in Australia.
Austin Maynard Architects has recently renovated and extended a post-war bungalow in Canberra for a family of three — Lindy, Paul and their teenage daughter Mia.
Empire House is an exercise in considered intervention and restraint,” explained Austin Maynard Architects, which is led by founding director Andrew Maynard and co-director Mark Austin. “It would have been easier, and a lot less fun, to demolish and start again.”
The aim was to retain as much of the existing character of the site as possible and avoid the common trend of knocking down or adding a dominant, unsympathetic addition. The original house was in fairly good condition overall, though the kitchen, laundry and bathroom were oddly positioned and in a poor state. The original hearth and fireplace in the living room had a great feel and were retained, along with the light fittings, windows, timber picture rail and skirting. The kitchen was relocated from the old part of the house to a new pavilion at the rear of the site, within beautiful established garden, while a seperate sleeping pavilion (with ensuite) was constructed to the side.
The pavilion additions are connected to the existing house via a glass ‘link’. The linking corridors are highly detailed to appear as transparent as possible. The most striking element of Empire House is the craftsmanship of the surfmist colorbond shingles. Each one hand-finished and hand fixed, they form a snakeskin-like covering that merges roof and wall in one surface, contrasting with the white rendered brick of the old part of the house. The two white materials – brick and shingle, create a relationship and discussion between the original house and the new additions.

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