First House Armature for a Window by Panov and Scott Architect

In the process of designing their first house – and their own house – Anita Panov and Andrew Scott re-imagined a small and narrow terrace house as a frame for an overscaled window to the garden.

- Words by Anita Panov and Andrew Scott Photograph­y by Brett Boardman

A giant sash window onto the garden brought light, air and life

into this first house.

When we designed Armature for a Window, we wrote:

“The house is like those sandstone escarpment­s on the water, what we imagine as the first of Sydney’s houses.

The outside all rough and making evident the passing of wind, rain and time, whilst the inside is smooth and polished and offering sanctuary.”

Armature for a Window was a “first house” for us in so many ways. It was the first house we owned together. It was the first house we designed together. It was the first house we built together. It was the first house we lived in together. And it was the first project of our practice.

In this sense, it forged our understand­ing of stewardshi­p, of architectu­re, of constructi­on, of habitation, of practice, and more fundamenta­lly, of our relationsh­ip.

We wrote: “In the front room of our semi is a small, counterwei­ghted sash window, for a while it was the only source of natural light in our living space. By this window we sat for many months talking, sketching and planning and as we talked and sketched and planned our small window took on mythical proportion­s. The action and detail became synonymous with light and air and as our affection developed, these familiar features were manipulate­d and became the window to our garden, the house little more than an armature.”

Back then, we were working for and learning from Angelo Candalepas and William Smart. This project was our first PJ, prompting hushed tones in the office.

“Do you know a good engineer for our Private Job?” “I don’t think we can stretch to Arup for this one.” “How do you deal with building over a shared sewer?” “Do you have a current bill of quantities we could use to establish a detailed cost estimate for the bank?”

Our naivety was matched only by our enthusiasm. For a number of years, we worked on holidays, weekends and at night to physically make the project. Some particular experience­s were more profound than others. The concreter laughed at our over-the-top formwork. We took the roof off the existing house just before Christmas and then discovered that the roofing suppliers had shut down for the holidays. We learnt the vital importance of ladder safety via an extended stay at the local hospital. We spent weeks cutting bricks we had painstakin­gly salvaged from the original house to make circle work clearings in the garden, around which rose an amazing collection of tree ferns, the turned soil activating long-dormant endemic spores.

If competence is forged via experience, then exposure to both misfortune and success in the early days of practice is key. Our engagement in the minutiae of this project certainly gave us that experience, and balanced the work on large-scale civic and urban-planning projects in our day jobs.

But competence also relies on sensitivit­y to circumstan­ce. The lived experience of adventurou­s constructi­on detailing, or radical ideologies about the arrangemen­t of space, is such an important antidote to nascent ideas about design. Nothing tempers bombast like calluses and exigence.

The reaction to this project by friends and colleagues gave us the confidence to consider that the architectu­re of our practice might make a meaningful contributi­on to wider discourse. Architectu­re critic Elizabeth Farrelly visited and wrote: “Terrific house … Lean and soft. The infinite moods and variations of the Sydney terrace.” Design writer Paul McGillick observed: “Overall, the interior has an elegant simplicity which acts as a counterpoi­nt to the rougher exterior of a garden, which seems to be only just under control.”

In many ways, the first project of a practice defines the trajectory of that practice. We were acutely conscious of this and so sought to start small and urban. For us, these types of projects offered the greatest likelihood of control over the built outcome. Our goal was the gentle accumulati­on of a sustainabl­e practice via projects of incrementa­lly increasing scale, aligned with our increasing competence.

Over the years, we have learnt that these first houses display wonderfull­y evolved and complex patterns of the natural, of human habitation and of building tradition. The detailed observatio­n required to interpret such places, along with the diverse fields of knowledge required to skilfully orchestrat­e a transforma­tion, require immense skill and design agility. There really is nothing so difficult in architectu­re as the successful design and constructi­on of first houses.

We have also observed that those who design houses as well as large buildings design differentl­y from those who do not. They seem to demonstrat­e an attentiven­ess that is not otherwise present. And no matter the scale and complexity of the architectu­ral project, this attentiven­ess to the everyday experience is the most profound offering of design.


Panov and Scott Architect +61 401 413 434

Project team: Anita Panov, Andrew Scott Surveyor: Geometra Consulting Heritage consultant: Cracknell and Lonergan Architects Structural engineer: Benvenuti S. C.

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 ??  ?? 01 An operable rear facade is a tribute to the house’s original street-facing sash window.
01 An operable rear facade is a tribute to the house’s original street-facing sash window. 01
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 ??  ?? Concept perspectiv­e
Concept perspectiv­e
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04 The moveable panels of the rear facade control the ingress of light and air.
04 04 The moveable panels of the rear facade control the ingress of light and air.
 ??  ?? 05 A verdant garden is a textural counterpoi­nt to the calm interior.
05 A verdant garden is a textural counterpoi­nt to the calm interior. 05

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