Sitting quietly within one of Melbourne’s iconic heritage streetscapes, the historic collection of buildings that made up the existing conditions at Ackmans House had several lives before its present iteration. The circa 1860s site was originally industrially occupied before becoming a home emporium bearing the name ‘Ackmans House,’ part of the property holdings of the Ackman furniture group. Later, it was adapted into commercial office spaces that stripped away those design gestures that would have carried an enduring story of place. “None of the design responses post its original use really respected the character, volume, texture, materials and history of the building,”
The irregularly shaped site initially comprised a
Regarding the original warehouse, Rob notes that prior adaptions did not grant any appreciation for the building’s rich history. Partition walls had been stretched over the actual fabric, with exposed utilities serving the occupiers’ purposes as opposed to mediating between it and the experiential, narrative possibilities the site held. As such, the design response involved stripping the building back to its original form and then introducing ‘buildings within the building’ to preserve the warehouse walls and modify the interior for residential purposes.
A series of curved forms are “nested within the existing plan and section,” independently programmed and placed away from the heritage warehouse walls. Those spaces create positive and negative volumes that are adapted into informal areas and circulation paths which gently curve throughout the interior envelope, sweeping elegantly throughout to delineate space, imbue a sense of everyday domesticity and temper the imposing strength of the heritage brick and stone. A unique exchange takes place between the old and new, as can be observed in the entry courtyard.
The addition stretches out from the warehouse to the far corner of the property, connecting all parts of the site. Central to its visual and pragmatic presence is an impressive blackened-steel staircase that invites one up to the roof deck to appreciate the views of the church and heritage surrounds. A dark material palette induces a sense of calm and quietness; a grounding effect that amplifies and frames the neighbourhood. Although the material palette is not extensive – mainly steel and timber – there is a high level of craftsmanship. The practice collaborated with several craftspeople and tradespeople to achieve the desired subtlety and finesse.
Rob Kennon Architects have transformed this historic warehouse into a contemporary residence with amenities fit for today. The design emphasizes sustainability by delivering a robust and resilient family home that is thermally efficient and acoustically sealed. Deliberately restrained, Ackmans House draws upon the unique character of its site with great sensibility and without ever detracting from its original fabric and that of the surrounding built environment.
The design of this home allows those who occupy it to appreciate the building’s history, scale and origins in craft and fabrication – a foregrounding of attributes that first attracted the clients to the site and have since come to define it.