Elm & Willow House by Architects EAT


Melbourne office Architects EAT have completed an extension to a house in Canterbury, Australia, suspended above the ground on steel columns.

Above photograph is by James Coombe

Called Elm & Willow House, the project involved restoring the Edwardian house and building a u-shaped extension at the back.

The concrete floor and roof slabs are supported above the ground to to avoid damaging the roots of mature elm and willow trees on the site.

The structure encloses a courtyard around one of these trees, while sliding glass panels form a skin around the new rooms.

Above photograph is by James Coombe

Photographs are by Earl Carter except where stated otherwise.

The following information is from the architects:


This project involves restoration and alteration to the existing Edwardian house, and the demolition and construction at the rear for a new addition. The transparency and openness of the new part is a deliberate counterpoint to the introverted Edwardian house with its dark central corridor. Our intention was to create an “Inside is outside is inside” environment, where inside and outside spaces were interchangeable elements. The project evokes a certain reference to the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe, and many courtyard houses in Melbourne by McGlashan and Everist.

The two mature Elm and Willow became the constraints to the project. They informed the arrangement of our new addition, and together with passive solar orientation the result is a U-shaped plan enclosing a north-facing courtyard.

Above photograph is by James Coombe

The structure is suspended over the ground to avoid damaging the critical root zones of the two trees. The concrete floor and roof slabs are meticulously detailed, with significant input from our structural engineer, to appear and feel light, floaty and airy, a dialectic relationship between weight and material. This quality is enhanced by a skeletal structure of “skin and bones”, in which the non load-bearing glass sliding windows become a mere breathing skin between occupants and the outside world.

Internal planning strategies were devoted to the spatial hierarchy, in an interplay of inner and outer, and sequence of spaces. The link between the old and new is merged into the layering of spaces where inside and outside becomes one – the transparency of the borders separating interior and exterior allows the eye to perceive other elements that create the spatial order: fences, trees, stones, woods, clouds and borrowed landscape.

The addition has a passive ventilation system, whereby louver windows promote cross ventilation. The building materials specified are non-toxic and from renewable resources. The concrete structure provides thermal masses to the house with the slabs further insulated to minimise heat loss.

Above photograph is by James Coombe

All glazing are double-glazed to provide comfort to the interior, and the deciduous trees provide essential shading to the house during summer. Energy and water-saving fittings have been used throughout, and rain water is harvested for use in the gardens. A new carport with grid-connect solar power panels is in the design process.

It was a total of 3 years from the first meeting with the clients to the day they moved back into the house, during which the construction took 18 months, the client found passions in designing his gardens and their first child was born. It is a house for enjoyment, living in landscape with the family, and appreciation of tranquillity, intimacy and sanctuary - which were our original brief.

Posted on Wednesday March 10th 2010 at 11:59 am by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Rembo

    Cue “The Imperial March”!

  • JJ

    We’re still doing the Mies thing?

  • colin from desa pesona

    love the way they take into consideration the existing tree n how to respond to environment issue.

  • pietbloom

    “(…) a certain reference to the Farnsworth House” a bit understated……

  • hj

    It’s like Farnsworth folded around a tree and not just a certain reference

  • Rouan

    That picture with the kid in it is pretty scary…

  • Carolina

    @Rembo and @JJ: Exactly! The hallway looks like “The Shining” and the bathroom, something out of WWII. Maybe it improves with better lighting and some of the residents’ artwork.

  • abdulqadirabas

    a humble house accurately representing their original brief..love it bros…

  • Timo

    wow – so that’s something new

  • Chris from Melbourne

    I think it is a great addition. I know the area that it is built in quite well and that suburb is the second most expensive in Melbourne. It is good to see such a contemporary addition in a typically blue ribbon area with lots of Victorian through to Edwardian homes. Good work boys!

  • Bozo

    I like it very much

  • Mehdi

    looks like Farnsworth !!! we still doing Mies architecture

  • LOVE!

  • Werner Boshoff

    Such a beautiful colour palette and range of textures. The house almost become secondary to the trees. The curtains are softening the overall feel – also the perfect time of day to shoot this ‘warm’ house. Well done. It feels understated in a very good way, to me.

  • Werner Boshoff

    Such a beautiful colour palette and range of textures. The house almost becomes secondary to the trees. The curtains are softening the overall feel – also the perfect time of day to shoot this ‘warm’ house. Well done. It feels understated in a very good way, to me.

  • al

    A beautiful reference to a modernist classic,the Farnsworth house. Admirably, the authors admit to the reference to Mies..I really love the way they re-interpreted the structure which certainly seems more invigorating compared to the other Mies rip-offs out there. Absolutely love its rawness as well.

  • I like it, a great way to mix the old and new, without having to knock any trees down. Good work.

  • steven

    Why does everything always have to be innovative? Constant innovation is boring. Mies was one of the greatest modernist Architects for a reason. This work is spectacular, great use of materials and has a very Australian feel. Wonderful

  • the interiors look evil

  • yshin

    ya, i don’t like the interior bathroom. it doesn’t connect with the exterior at all.

  • susulembu

    its a beautiful extension, sensitive and well executed with great respect to the existing building and beautiful trees.

    it is ridiculous and annoying to think that all ‘new’ buildings need to look like scaled-up faceless polycarb boxes from muji or squidgy amorphous blobs to qualify as ‘new’. it wouldve been baseless, alien and acontextual to have responded to this brief as such.

    in this project context takes precedent over form which is what the architects have responded to with great success. so congratulations!

  • graham

    nice, I’d live there in a heartbeat.

    maybe it looks like the Farnsworth house because the clients briefed it in to resemble it. Maybe they like the dark interiors, maybe they don’t give two hoots that others seem to be offended by what they wanted for their very own house.

  • wy

    hallway image…… nightmare at elm house anyone ?

  • Renee

    It’s extraordinary and exciting. What freedom, no walls. How fabulous it would be to live there.

  • Chong Hor Ooi

    So close to natural, good ventilation ,best ideal.

  • student

    how is the slab connected to the steel cloumns?

  • Check out arch daily for an image of the steel detailing… 220mm concrete roof and floor, stepped around the edge to hide the window framing and internal fall and in case of the floor, the insulation underneath.

  • moon

    reading the comments i sometimes wonder in what architectural jewels the commentators must live……….

    Personally i think it looks beautiful. Yes it looks like Mies van der Rohe but is that a problem? I see a clear vision and great textures. It gives a small plot like this a lot of light, air and luxery. Bravo!

  • ana

    ok guys, the thing is: Mies can not be forgotten, and we all know how good he was. So way not try to reinvent his thing?? i think its better to redo something that has already been presented, than to do something bad and call it original!

  • Nicolas O. Toro

    Yes, we are still doing Mies Architecture, it does means that that architecture WORK.