Bilgola Residence
Clovelly Residence

Sustainability through Liveability

Well-nigh all of the Tzannes houses built over the last four decades stand in fundamentally the same condition as the day construction was complete. They remain in situ, intact and essentially unchanged, for three very good reasons – they work, they’re lovely places to live, and they have good bones.

The houses work because the over-riding intention of the plan and orientation was to optimise the passive design performance. They’re lovely places to live because the pleasures of inhabitation – spaciousness, privacy, outlook, warmth, light, cooling breezes, and nature – were all connected with knowledge and aforethought. And they all have good bones – the structural and material pre-requisites for a long life.

When a house performs correctly, in terms of both its passive design program and its degree of user satisfaction, it can conceivably last forever, as will the range of benefits – domestic, social, economic, and environmental. Sustainability through liveability is the equation to which Tzannes has adhered with an ongoing sequence of houses that can be regarded as paradigms of longevity and user satisfaction.

"We design to last. We recently heard from clients who have lived in one of our houses for nearly forty years, and they didn’t want to change a thing. We are always hearing this about our houses."

Alec Tzannes

Using the Land Wisely

The First Nation perception of Caring for Country is predicated on the notion that humans are both responsive to and responsible for the land, and that they must respectfully integrate and reciprocate with every natural system. Conversely, if the land is treated badly, the design and construction process and its subsequent occupation will be unsustainable, and ultimately unliveable.

For Tzannes, the land is therefore treated as a setting for all forms of sustainability, and the architectural provision of a good house is underpinned by an understanding of the nature of inhabitation – the threads of kinship, multi-generational tenure, and the house as a gathering place. As in the broader understanding of Country, the patterns of the land – the terrain, the pathways, and indeed its urban context – are overlaid by the patterns of domesticity in a condition of ecological and sociable harmony.

"We need to think beyond the limits of sustainable practice, which means we need to actively regenerate in order to rebalance the impact we are having. Buildings and neighbourhoods need to give back to nature, encourage biodiversity, and function as highly desirable places for their occupants and the wider community."

Amy Dowse

A Sequence of Timeless Designs

The lineage of acclaimed Tzannes houses was firmly initiated by the Henwood House, which was inserted within a row of 19th century Paddington terraces with a timeless design that was unequivocally, and most conspicuously, very much of its place. This was not just a matter of street-front aesthetics, and it is more than significant to note that in terms of the occupation of its land, of its internal spaces and courtyards, the house could not be anywhere but Paddington. From then on, within and throughout every house, architecture directed by contextual appropriateness was to prevail, it was to become the hallmark of the practice, and this is why the houses have endured, because apart from anything else, permanence depends upon fitting in.

The redevelopment of the Paddington Corner House called for the creation of a light-filled family home on an overshadowed site occupied by a large terrace and its dilapidated set of accretions. By remodelling and opening out the rear of the terrace, and by enabling the penetration of all available sunlight to the garden extension, Tzannes performed major surgery to the entire compound. Every room and space in the house could now ‘breathe’, and they all basked in a new-found warmth.

Paddington Corner Terrace

The remodelling of the Arthur Residence consummately transformed the orientation, circulation, spatial hierarchy, and living patterns, of a humble 19th century worker’s cottage set upon a narrow sloping site. The orientation of the house was flipped away from the street to the west, where the structural shell was opened out to the view and the sun, and a grand indoor/outdoor living area was created on a level where there had previously been a musty basement and backyard. This expansive ‘room’ serves as the raison d’être for the dwelling, which now feels far larger and far more liveable than could ever have been imagined.

Arthur Residence

On an awkwardly shaped site, hemmed in by neighbouring villas, and small apartment blocks, the design concept for the Garden House aimed to produce a house at one with its immediate environment and landscape. The orientation and volumes were calibrated to make the most of the micro-climatic conditions, of the wind direction and solar paths, and the living areas feel unaccountably spacious and light-filled, extending into a garden with delicately leaved trees and a resplendent magnolia, which had been repositioned to serve as the focal point of all the vistas. By teasing out and harnessing the environmental attributes of a relatively unprepossessing locale, the architecture had optimised the potential delights of inhabitation.

Garden House
Photograph of dining and living spaces from the garden in the Garden House designed by Tzannes
Garden House

The Need for Good Bones

In order that the houses incorporate each and every pre-requisite for eminent liveability and enduring sustainability, the architecture is underpinned by the need for good bones: the materials are selected with an eye to permanence and durability; the planning is coherent and accommodating; the structure and the cladding are inherently robust; and the efficiency of the systems for passive environmental control will remain constant.

The first impressions of a Tzannes house are not misleading. The architecture is routinely described as cleanly articulated, well-proportioned, and harmoniously composed, with an inherently classical disposition – a scale and order that signifies timelessness and correctness. The compositional and programmatic rigour of the Point Piper House for example, is revealed in a very tactile manner by the external elevations, whose stonework and masonry verge upon the monumental. The structural elements and the internal and external surfaces of the Garden House remain in good order, and although there have been changes of ownership and shifts in domestic lifestyle, the pleasurable usefulness of the rooms and communal areas has not been diminished.

"Our homes are well-planned and logical. They have good bones."

Alec Tzannes

Bellevue Hill Residence
Photograph of award-wining

Alterations to two sizeable under-performing houses aimed to provide good new bones by substantially reorganising the circulation, spatial relationships, landscaping, and passive design methods, whilst retaining the over-riding architectural forms. The alterations to Oculus, a circular space-age structure originally designed in the 1960s, focused upon environmental performance – solar penetration, sun-shading, cross-ventilation, and minimal maintenance – whilst also serving to accentuate the much-cherished architectural expression. With the Bellevue Hill Residence, the process of remodelling was a program of permanence, comprising remediations and rectifications (aesthetic and environmental) that added years of value to a very large 1980s residence whose internal layout was both incommodious and structurally incongruous. The Tzannes reconfiguration of the planning was directed by the need for a complete transformation, rather than a deferential restoration.


Image Credits:
Brett Boardman (Bellevue Hill Residence)
Michael Nicholson (Garden House, Oculus)
Murray Fredericks (Paddington Corner Terrace)
Steve Back (Clovelly Residence, Bilgola Residence)
Unknown (Henwood House)