A young Christchurch de­signer slots two com­pact houses onto a 300-square-me­tre site.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Con­tents - Text Anna Frances Pear­son Pho­tog­ra­phy Stephen Good­e­nough

Two ro­bust, com­pact houses by Coll Ar­chi­tec­ture

Sharp an­gles against the sky, tiny square win­dows, rusted steel and riv­ets: from the street, Mitchell Coll and Amy Dou­glas’ two-bed­room house looks im­pen­e­tra­ble, like a tank that’s been left in the rain. Nes­tled be­tween two 1990s dwellings – con­crete on the left and stucco on the right, and sit­u­ated across the road from a build­ing-sup­plies ware­house, their two-storey in­ner-city home both blends in and stands out. “It has its own con­tem­po­rary style but it’s de­signed to fit within the con­text of the sur­round­ing build­ings,” says Coll. Coll – of Coll Ar­chi­tec­ture – never thought he’d get to build one of his own cre­ations, let alone live in it. In­stead, he ended up build­ing two. He could have de­signed one house for the site, but as some­one who spends a lot of en­ergy pro­mot­ing high-den­sity, space-ef­fi­cient build­ings, it wouldn’t have felt right. “I re­ally only needed 150 to 200 square me­tres of land for the house we wanted,” he says, “but the site was 300 – so I just did what was best for the site re­ally.” The long, nar­row site has two 74-square-me­tre dwellings with mir­ror-im­age floor­plans, split by a com­mon wall. Coll and Dou­glas live in the front house, and rent out the rear dwelling. Park­ing is out the front, on space ‘bor­rowed’ from the set­back front fence – an area that’s of­ten mis­taken for pu­bic park­ing. Ac­cess to the rear house is down an al­ley on the south­ern side, flanked with a mu­ral by lo­cal artist Joel Hart. The en­trance is so pri­vate that it was two months be­fore Dou­glas even ran into their ten­ants af­ter they moved in: even though the site is only 300 square me­tres, each house has a pri­vate out­door liv­ing space and stor­age shed – use­ful when there’s no garage. Coll and Dou­glas chose to live in the front house be­cause they thought the rear one would be eas­ier to rent out. Their en­trance is through a slid­ing door, where an open-plan room with ply and cross-lam­i­nated tim­ber walls of­fers up a warm, con­tained feel. LED strip lights are re­cessed into the tim­ber ceil­ing, rem­i­nis­cent of a Bill Cul­bert in­stal­la­tion. An eggshell-blue kitchen is­land made from com­pact lam­i­nate – a durable ma­te­rial com­monly used for hos­pi­tal wall lin­ings – pro­vides a dash of colour. Up­stairs, rather than tra­di­tional win­dows, sky­lights in the steep skil­lion ceil­ing let light into the hall­way, bed­rooms, WC and shower. “It’s a lit­tle alpine lodge in

the mid­dle of the city,” says Coll, who ad­mits to hav­ing a pen­chant for New Zealand Forestry huts. The cou­ple doesn’t have a lot of stuff, “but what we do have means some­thing”, says Dou­glas. Like the din­ner-plate sized leaf made from earth that hangs on their bed­room wall – some­thing Coll car­ried back from Mex­ico. And there’s a plant in ev­ery room. Coll’s de­sign in­cor­po­rates sev­eral pos­si­ble adap­ta­tions which, along with the use of durable ma­te­ri­als, he hopes will give the build­ings an ex­tra­long life. Should an­other owner want a four-bed­room dwelling, all they’d need to do is knock through a kitchen cup­board and in­sert a door to the rear house. If an earth­quake af­fected the land, rated TC3 due to its poor soil con­di­tion, a foun­da­tion sys­tem of steel bear­ers on screw piles with ad­justable brack­ets would al­low one per­son to eas­ily re-level the dwellings by up to 120mm in less than two hours. And should the land value bal­loon in the next 50 years, ren­der­ing the houses vul­ner­a­ble to de­mo­li­tion – a fate Coll be­lieves has be­fallen too many de­cent build­ings in post-quake Christchurch – they can be un­bolted from each other, picked up and moved on. Coll says costs were sim­i­lar per square me­tre to most ar­chi­tec­tural builds, yet he scru­ti­nised ev­ery el­e­ment and “cut back as much as pos­si­ble through de­sign” – both in terms of cost and use of space. For ex­am­ple, ply and cross-lam­i­nated tim­ber made for speed­ier con­struc­tion. LEDs avoid the clut­ter of hang­ing fix­tures. At more than 200mm thick, the lower level’s solid wood ceil­ing dou­bles as a struc­tural sup­port and floor up­stairs, elim­i­nat­ing the need for chunky rafters. The low-pitch roof, mean­while, saved on ma­te­ri­als and also mod­er­ates heat. The dwellings in­cor­po­rate other en­ergy ef­fi­cien­cies such as fi­bre­glass window and door frames, a ma­te­rial that holds heat bet­ter than alu­minium. And win­dows are clev­erly placed – one down­stairs opens at foot level to ven­ti­late the en­tire house through the ‘stack ef­fect’. And when the sun beams through north-fac­ing sky­lights in the master bed­room, the heat rises to holes near the apex of the gabled ceil­ing and a low-wattage fan redi­rects it down­stairs. “We made these houses as small as pos­si­ble with­out los­ing func­tion­al­ity,” says Coll. The logic is sim­ple. “If you halve the size, you can spend twice as much.”

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