Tsubo Niwa House / Incidental Architecture
Text description provided by the architects. Incidental Architecture exists to support the delivery of great buildings. We love beautiful buildings and elegant details, but the core belief of the practice is that buildings are at their greatest when they serve the lives of the people and communities that inhabit them; while the task of architecture is to design things, things should be incidental to life. In this way, the intention for Tsubo Niwa was to create a building that is durable, flexible, and will be caring and cared for in equal measure.
The project is a simple but densely detailed rear addition to a four-room heritage timber cottage in a Conservation Area in North Sydney. It is sited on a steep heavily vegetated slope uniquely located adjacent to the North Sydney CBD. The rear of the house forms an ‘L’ around a ‘Tsubo Niwa’ (small town garden) which is both an acknowledgment of the green band in which the house sits as well as being the focus of all new rooms. As such, the building becomes incidental to the garden. This project is a case of welcoming the landscape inside, as opposed to placing a building within a landscape.
At an ideological level, the new work is careful and minimal to respect both the scale and materiality of the existing. The small scale of the project led to the modest budget being able to be used to great effect for numerous carefully crafted details. The new addition is calm, careful, and humble, which is a fair reflection of the owners. While this was never a big-budget job, there was always a reflection on what was necessary to have the same sense of integrity and gravity as the original house. The answer, we think, is to do less, and to do it well. Buildings are inherently complicated and costly. The best solutions inevitably tend to be the ones in which most are achieved with the least.
At a pragmatic level, the new addition replaces a previous dilapidated addition with a warm, joyful, and outward-looking space. Blackbutt is used extensively for structure, linings, doors, and joinery in the new work. This is in keeping with the extensive use of expressed hardwood and unpainted softwoods throughout the existing house and provides a beautiful richness and honesty within the space. Detailing and engineering are elegant. Materials were all carried on and off-site by hand, and therefore weight and efficiency were paramount. One of the things I think is important philosophically is the use of timber; the existing cottage is timber, and the new work is needed to honor that craftsmanship and spirit.