Canberra Midcentury-Heritage Restoration

“In 2005, obituarists of Sydney architect Neville Gruzman commented on his character – passionate, dedicated, single-minded – and his buildings, ‘complex, unusual, intensely personal, serene, shimmering and reflective’… he also became notorious for lawsuits against clients, relatives and former friends. Ironically, his handling of Desmond Kennard’s house in Canberra led to Gruzman being sued for negligence. And yet the house that eventually emerged is a small masterpiece”.

- Tim Reeves and Alan Roberts

100 Canberra Houses, (Braddon ACT: Halstead Press, 2013), 116-7.

Neville Gruzman’s 1961 “Kennard house” is an iconic Canberra midcentury modern home. While not heritage listed, it is unique and beautiful. This was Gruzman’s first Canberra comission. The original plans were drawn by his assistant – now Pritzker Prize winner (and our mentor/lecturer) Glenn Murcutt.

The house, however, is not perfect. During the construction and afterwards, Kennard sued Gruzman for negligence. The roof leaked resulting in damp damage and the study’s ceiling was too low. The home was a “bachelor’s house” and didn’t fit the brief for our clients.

Two earlier renovations (from the 60’s and the 80’s) attempted to extend the home and solve some of the structural issues. While the first was well built, this extension blocked much of the view. The entire home originally opened up to the views of Mt. Ainslie. This was central to Gruzman’s original design. The second renovation was not in keeping with the home’s heritage in either style or quality.

Our clients love midcentury Canberra as much as we do, but no one wants to live in a leaky house. The brief was to rationalise the layout of the living areas, restore the views and solve the water issues.

We addressed the water issues by simplifying some of the roof junctions and introducing ‘fall’. Check-measuments showed that the roof was completely level. We worked hard to keep the original character of the eaves and roof line. This simplified roof reduces the maintenance required to keep the gutters functioning. We used the details in the original drawings to make sure any changes matched the existing.

The house’s small living area with sunken lounge made it unfurnishable. Despite the house now having four bedrooms, the living areas were still designed for one. The original alfresco area (now functionally replaced with the deck) didn’t connect to the view or to the living room. To solve these issues, we filled in the sunken lounge and extended the living area into the afresco. This also gave us the opportunity to add more windows along the view-side of the house. It was very exciting to restore the views back up to the level that Gruzman had envisioned.

Contractors:

 

Building Features:

  • Restoration which respects Neville Gruzman’s heritage palette while challenging some of his spacial assumptions about how the home should be used
  • Matching the original Jarrah hardwood floors and vertical grooved timber panelling in the extension
  • Restored original clerestory windows
  • After almost 60 years, the roof no longer leaks

 

Australian Homestead Living Room by Architecture Republic

Mid-Century Style

 The clerestory windows had already been altered in a previous renovation. Gruzman’s original plans showed the room ending at that point. Awkward structural columns blocked the view and broke apart the room as a result. We worked to open up the space and hide the structure within the walls and ceiling. We restored the view to that which Gruzman would have originally responded to. We filled in the sunken lounge to better acommodate the spacial (and safety) needs of our clients. This restoration work was finnicky and very detail-oriented, but we are so happy with the result.

Materials + Space

The space left of the column/beam is the original heritage fabric, from the column to the right is our extension. The original living space was designed for a single university lecturer. The home can now elegantly acommodate a family. The extension takes all detailing cues from the original home’s midcentury architecture.

Floor Plan by Architecture Republic, Australia
Australian Homestead Rammed Earth Colorbond by Architecture Republic

Restoration - Windows + View

The generous deck was an existing feature of the home that our clients loved. The space overlooks Canberra’s iconic Mt. Ainslie. The doors and windows opening onto the space (pictured right of the deck) were cheap 1980’s frames. We worked to replace bring the finish back to the quality and proportion of the original house. Our extension is visible from the outrigger column, forward.

Kitchen

Although we don’t agree that the kitchen should be separated or hidden from the living rooms, we did respect Gruzman’s original plan, here. We did, however, extend the kitchen in length. This is more practical for our clients who love cooking and needed a larger, more functional space. We also added in some natural light in the form of a clerestory window (to match the other side of the living room).

Australian Homestead Garden by Architecture Republic

Like What You See?

Feel free to contact our offices in Canberra and Bowral. We also operate in Goulburn, the Southern Highlands, Sydney and throughout New South Wales.

Mobile: 0404 654 225
Email: hello@archrepublic.com.au
Post: PO Box 1572 Bowral, NSW 2576 and PO Box 3062 Belconnen, ACT 2617
Architect Registration Number: 9651 (NSW) 2525 (ACT)