With Marcus White

August 11 / 67

Foyn-Johanson House, Northcote. Credit: Ben Hoskins
Foyn-Johanson House, Northcote. Credit: Ben Hoskins

Dr. Marcus White is an architect, urban designer, and lecturer in digital the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. He is the recipient of the inaugural National Emerging Architect Award at the Australian Achievement in Architecture Awards 2011 and his architectural practice Harrison and White recently received an award at the Australian Institute of Architects Awards (Victoria) for a house design in Northcote. 

Foyn-Johanson House Northcote

Densification of existing, well serviced suburbs must happen, but this should not be at the expense of amenity of open space. I suggest that densification actually puts far greater importance on the quality of open space, be it public plazas and parks, or the veggie patch in a residential back yard.

In the Foyn-Johanson House in Northcote, I was able to explore the tension between densification and preservation of amenity in a residential project with a seemingly conflicting brief by using customised digital modelling techniques.

The client brief required a considerable expansion of their existing house to accommodate a large extended family, while expressing a desire to maintain good solar access to their productive edible garden.

The house design process involved the application of parametric subtractive solar technique I developed for the preservation of solar amenity of public of open spaces called ‘Subtracto-Sun’. For this residential scaled project, I created a digital model for the maximum permissible envelope under planning scheme, and then applied the Subtracto-Sun technique to sculpt the envelope. The resulting envelope ensured maximum solar access to the garden space between 10:00am and 4:00pm all year round. 

The form of the resulting envelope is articulated with the architectural materiality and detailing. A composite decking board (made of recycled milk bottles and rice husks) fixed to a steel frame acts as sun-screening for the western façade walls and glazing, as a balustrade to the upper level deck and compositionally emphasising the sculpted form. 

Windows are placed carefully to maximise cross ventilation along with a deliberately 'hot attic' which is used with the stair well as a thermal chimney for cooling, eliminating the need for air-conditioning. Water from the roof is collected via charged downpipes into water tanks and used for on-site vegetable cultivation. 

Attempting to create a building that was shaped by the sun, literally, had some construction challenges. We used an unusual mix of traditional 2D drawings, 3D digital models shown on a laptop, and a physical model of the house communicate the geometry with the builder onsite. After much discussion about how something ‘might be easy to draw in the computer, but it is not necessarily easy to build…’, we discovered that the builder’s father, who was also on the construction team, once worked in the ship building industry and was completely comfortable with reading straight Cartesian coordinates to set out string-lines for construction. Once the strings were set up, it turned it was actually quite straight forward to build.

The design was described by the AIA jury as a ‘playful abstraction of two regulated, yet invisible systems; the Rescode Town Planning envelope and the movement of the sun’. It suggests itself as a case study, illustrating a new design method for dealing with the perceived conflict between densification and amenity preservation, applicable at the residential scale but also at a large scale structure planning level. ‘The result is a beautifully sculpted architecture with maximum density and maximum solar gain. Harrison and White’s Foyn-Johanson House illustrates ambition on a modest budget’.


Builder: Ivo Solar Homes, Engineer: Felicetti, Construction Cost: $450,000

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