True North / TANDEM Design Studio

Named after its sunny corner block, True North is a home for an architect and family.

The site contains two dwellings. At the rear, stables built in the 1880s was renovated to a one bedroom townhouse, while on the corner, a new three bedroom house replaced a decaying 1950’s cottage.

The geometry of the sinuous, curving form emerged from the constraints of the irregular, triangular site. Opting for a triangular form created challenges in the corners of the plan. The corners were rounded to tightly contain the space and depart from the site geometry.

The ground level contains a sunken lounge, kitchen, dining and double-height atrium in a single room surrounded by pocket gardens. Upstairs three pods, accessed by stair and bridge, hover about a two storey atrium, containing bedrooms and bathrooms, creating interior space.

Rusted steel hoods puncture the pleated facade, their deep reveals creating private windows.

The abstract form relies on loose metaphors to relate meaning: “like a billowing dress, or a coral bommie; like being inside a water droplet, or hiding inside a musical instrument.”

True north / tandem design studio
© Tim Hill

Concept Description

Overcome the challenges

With the street close on two sides, and to minimise overlooking opportunities to neighbouring properties, bedrooms were placed upstairs making a seemingly solid mass overhead, shading conjoined volumes of dining, sunken lounge, kitchen and floor play spaces. Ground level windows open the north elevation. The shape of the inset garden was refined to self-shade north openings during summer.

True north / tandem design studio
© Tim Hill


After pragmatic considerations of dwelling were addressed through a logical series of operations responding to site, form and streetscape. Then sculptural qualities inherent in the abstract form were considered and amplified in loose metaphors to relate meaning.

The shape is like a coral bommie. The implied extension of the south elevation creates a dialogue with the stables, traversing new and old. The curving façade along Eastwood interprets a neighbouring bay window. The pleated façade whirls and billows, like a dress. The portholes remind me of industry, the hoods a fort. The low brick walls connect to Kensington’s masonry heritage. Being inside is like looking out through a water drop, or hiding inside a musical instrument.

True north / tandem design studio
© Tim Hill

Site Irregularity

Opting for a triangular form created challenges in the corners of the plan. The corners were rounded to tightly contain the space and depart from the site geometry. The form dips away from the northern boundary, making a sunlit garden. At the rear, the house was bent northwards away from the southern neighbour, improving sunlight penetration to their backyard. A dimple was introduced between dining and sunken lounge along the front, eastern facade, indicating the front door. Curving the building along the north and west connects side and front in a continuous form, bending the streetscape to create connectivity between major and minor roads.

True north / tandem design studio
© Tim Hill

Old Stables

The stables were renovated, creating a single bedroom townhouse. A braced timber, insulated internal structure founded on concrete ring beam and slab, over which the original brick floor was re-laid, stabilises the double brick walls. A kitchen, laundry, living and dining areas were located downstairs, a bedroom and ensuite upstairs. Modern windows replaced existing barn doors and shuttered openings.

True north / tandem design studio
© Tim Hill

Sustainability Features

True North was developed to minimise environmental impact through design. Energy conservation and generation were primary considerations.

Insulated slab and insulated double brick construction was selected for foundation and dwarf walls to create thermal mass. Highly insulated steel and timber frame was employed on roof, walls and level one.

Demolishing the existing cottage created a source of recycled bricks for the new building.

The form and openings was developed and tested through computer modelling and assessment to control sunlight penetration; to allow sunlight in to passively warm the slab in winter and exclude it in summer. A rating of 7.3 stairs was achieved.

The folded facade was developed, in part, to capture still air. This additional uncalculated insulation enhances envelope performance.

A central atrium, vented at low and high level, allows a night purge, flushing heat from the day.

While considered at the outset, energy generation was not implemented due to the excellent performance of the thermal envelope and poor value of feed-in tariff.

True north / tandem design studio
© Tim Hill

Development of the Steel facade

The continuous curving form required a seamless façade. A deep triangular profile, custom formed in a pearlescent metallic finish, renders the curvilinear form in constantly changing shadows. Rusted metallic hoods penetrate the folded facade to create window openings, enhance privacy and shade upper level rooms. The triangular ribs add structural stability, capturing airspace in a final layer of insulation, augmenting the envelope’s high thermal performance.

This steel facade was developed to resolve the challenges inherent in cladding this continuous, curving form in a seamless skin. Bluescope Steel provided the flat coil for while the triangular profile was folded by Design Sheet Metal to TANDEM’s design.

True north / tandem design studio
© Tim Hill

The continuous curved profile loops around the curving form, meeting at a single overlapped vertical seam indicating the front door. Over the back door the facade splits and rejoins to create a porch.

The profile articulates the curvileanear form in a continuous pleated loop, rendering the form in a constantly shifting pattern of shadows. It floats and whirls around the curved form like a dress, scarf or cloak, implying movement and a dynamic, restless energy.

The deeply folded facade was designed to create diagonal bracing, stabilising the curving, assymetric form. The deeply folded triangles retain a layer of still air adding to the performance of the envelope.

Project Details:

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Area: 182 sqm
Architects: TANDEM Design Studio
Photographs: Tim Hill

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