What is it that makes wonderful buildings speak to us? The sense of shelter promised? Memories evoked? Innovative revealed? The possibility of heritage lost, or futures held? Or, simple, is it beauty calling? When they speak, how do we respond?
A wonderful old dilapidated structure in inner-city Sydney spoke so strongly to then architecture student Raffaello Rosselli he dared to dream – of his first commission, and of celebrating a classic example of the Australian shed.
The two-storey corrugated iron building from the 1940s sat at the back of an ordinary block in Redfern.
Originally used as a workshop,it was in disrepair. The block’s new owner was approaching architects to replace or repair.
At this stage Rosselli did something that still surprises him – he cold-called the owner, putting a passionate case for saving.
“I’d been cycling past for years, and loved it,” he says. “I’d dreamt of working on it.”
Despite being a student with no built works, Rosselli’s passion, idealism, youthful enthusiasm and solid approach won him the job.
His plan was simple: to “celebrate something typically Australia” by deconstructing the shed piece-by- piece, keeping all materials, building a timber-framed two-storey structure with the same footprint and then re-using the old to create new.
It now looks as close to the original as possible, with carefully resolved changes to meet the client’s brief.
While light and air previously flooded the building in an unplanned and unfettered way (from gaps in the roof and walls), Rosselli inserted evocative and appropriate corten steel-framed window boxes to the south and east, opening the structure to its location and light.
Responding to the client’s request for a contemporary western-facing wall, he designed “a simple, curved modern fibre-cement face”, inserting window boxes upstairs and sliding doors downstairs.
Internally, the program of spaces and materials are simple to maximise the allusion of spaciousness in what is, in reality , a very small footprint. Downstairs is one bathroom and large studio space. Upstairs, self-contained guest accommodation. Balancing the richness of the exterior walls, inside is a cool sea of white plasterboard.
“This building is really all about the exterior. What’s so beautiful is the patchwork of green, grey, rust, and silver iron, which highlights each of the building’s stages and its history. We had to add a very few newer pieces, but we kept these tucked behind the patchwork of older iron.”
I can’t think of a better Christmas story. Idealism rewarded, a building saved, and beauty of the raw form celebrated.
The Drawing Board will return on Sunday January 13. We wish you a cheerful and safe holiday season.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.