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Nick Harding of HA


Finding the right architect is a little more complex than scrolling through your favourite images. Melbourne-based architect, Nick Harding, principal of Ha, draws a line through recent projects to show how a body of work comes together.

Emerging as a practice in inner Melbourne we’ve found the majority of our residential projects share a common thread of being located on small sites in dense residential zones, by Australian standards. The constraints associated with these small sites necessitate a discerning and cunning architectural approach, which often manifests in one, or all, of the following three scenarios:

Leveson House, the courtyard brings natural light into the living space.

Leveson House by Ha, the courtyard brings natural light into the living space. Photo by Tom Blachford.

From the inside out

In researching and testing designs for higher density homes in urban sites, we’ve quickly come to realise that there are a set of key renovation moves that are defined by a site’s dimensions, its typical housing stock, and its era. For instance, when reconfiguring the floor plan of a typical five-metre wide single-fronted Victorian terrace house, the most creative solutions are actually a product of necessity. Consider a kitchen island that doubles as a dining room table, for example. While this kind of open kitchen–dining mode appears wholly contemporary, it’s actually an adaptation of traditional 1880s living models into the modern day home.

When it comes to planning a renovation of this nature, by necessity you have to borrow space and share function between rooms. This overlap is where the opportunity for design lies. This is what we consider to be designed by necessity and it’s especially useful when a design cannot afford to vary by even 100mm. It’s also fundamental to our philosophy that designing from the inside out is essential to good architecture.

Dalgety Street blends indoor and outdoor.

Dalgety Street blends indoor and outdoor. Photo by Ben McGee.

Passive performance

Creating opportunities for solar access and cross ventilation – especially on tight sites – is one of the most challenging elements of any brief. In the case of our Lawry Street Residence, the kitchen, dining and living room lay side-by-side, as one. Tailored windows specific to each orientation of the house are part of designing a well-performing home that responds to its context and orientation. Furthermore, windows are operable in strategic locations to facilitate cross ventilation.

The living and dining space at Lawry St House.

The living and dining space at Lawry St House. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen.

We intentionally minimised and framed the exterior views, reducing glass expanses on the southern façade to improve the thermal performance of the space while still creating a strong connection to the rear yard. This was really successful in creating an intimate kitchen with great natural light. Meanwhile, the clerestory north windows allow beautiful winter sun into the southern end of the living room and kitchen.

In the case of Leveson Street Residence, it really became the central focus of the design. The property is built with multi-storey buildings on three sides, and an existing warehouse façade. To open the internalised site outwards, vertical incisions were cut into the vertically-stacked design. The strategy was not just to make this large, rectangular volume a habitable space, but one with views to the natural environment and natural daylight from vantage points within the house.

The two external voids extend from level two to ground, creating an opportunity for windows to allow natural light into each room. These also create visual connectivity and link the house vertically with beautiful light wells, while creating opportunities for natural ventilation.

In each of our projects, we design custom external sun shading specific to a window’s orientation and purpose.

Leveson Street House. Photo by Tom Blachford.

Leveson Street House by Ha. Photo by Tom Blachford.

Natural Connections

In embracing medium density living, it’s essential that every living and working environment has an integral relationship to the natural landscape. Nature is integral to any project. An inhabitant’s willingness to embrace a space is largely a result of how a building interacts with the natural landscape. Our objective is to produce environments that demonstrate a considered interface between landscape and architecture.

A great case in point is Dalgety Street Residence, which is a renovation of an existing terrace house in inner city St Kilda. Here, the north-facing existing kitchen was opened up to facilitate an external entertaining area adjacent to the kitchen. As a result, the kitchen can easily expand, in one simple move, to encompass the walled garden deck area. In either mode (doors open or closed), the garden, which frames the deck, opens the interiors to greenery while also offering privacy from the newly developed apartments beyond.

Dalgety Street, photo by Ben McGee.

Dalgety Street by Ha, photo by Ben McGee.

Alternatively, when planning the Lawry Street living space, we wanted a strong relationship with the rear yard but, as we were dealing with a south orientation, elected to design selected framed views where window openings were driven by the use of the internal rooms. You can sit inside at the bay window of the living room at the exact height of the terraced lawn area while bathing in beautiful Northern sunlight. Similarly, from the kitchen, you can gaze into the herb garden through the modest slot window above the kitchen bench while enjoying the sunlight from behind.

Lead image by Kristoffer Paulsen.


This article originally appeared in MEZZANINE. Subscribe at shop.niche.com.au or digitally through Zinio.

See the work of another emerging Melbourne-based practice, Therefore Studio.


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