April 1, 2008
A residential project near Melbourne creatively conforms to the city’s strict building codes.
Fitzroy North just got its first tattoo. The town, outside of Melbourne, has long been known for Victorian houses on tree-lined streets, but things are changing. A younger crowd is moving in, and the sleepy suburb is looking edgier, thanks in part to a new graphic project by Andrew Maynard Architects (AMA).
Charged with livening up a house that, as Maynard says, “was stuck in the fifties,” AMA offered a simple provocative solution. To the back of the single-story brick home he added a big white box with a glass wall, across which climbs a stylized pattern of leaves and branches. But the arboreal scene, which is visible from the street, is not just for show—the design is a brilliant answer to a very sticky problem: ResCode.
ResCode is Australia’s set of strict building laws that requires, among other things, 75 percent opacity on second-story windows. “ResCode assumes all Australians are perverts,” Maynard says of its over-the-top demand. “We’re not allowed to look into our neighbors’ windows.” But AMA’s clients wanted the extension to connect to its surroundings. So how do you shield a house from its neighbors and reach out to them at the same time? Easy: give it a tattoo. Maynard and his crew covered the glass (75 percent of it, to be exact) with a lacy white vinyl sticker abstracted from a photo they took of trees in a local park. In addition to shading the interior, the sticker connects the bare-bones box with its leafy suburban setting.
So far, so good. ResCode and the clients were satisfied, but for the architect something was missing. “I had a problem with the house about halfway through construction: that big blank white wall,” Maynard says. The bare facade looked too stark, so using the window design as a guide, they cut out a stencil. “It’s like part of a tattoo poking out the sleeve of your T-shirt,” Maynard explains, because the painted wall hints at the bigger design hidden around the corner. And like the vinyl sticker, it serves multiple roles, softening the facade while nodding to the real trees out back.
You don’t see a lot of architects picking up spray cans and tagging their projects, but for AMA it was an obvious move. “To a certain extent,” Maynard says, “all architects want to get their hands dirty.” But what did the neighbors think? “There were two guys down below on their phones. I thought they were calling the cops. But then I thought, We’re graffitiing our own building, so it’s okay.”