Lightly Weighted / Oli Booth Architects
Oli Booth, Libby Elmore
Text description provided by the architects. Perched looking out from its elevated position, the modest two-bedroom home feels removed and transportive, despite being embedded amongst residences in the Auckland suburb of Gray Lynn. While inner-city living has its multitude of benefits, there exists an undeniably compromising closeness between residences, where feeling separated is not always a given. By creating a protective shell of sorts, Lightly Weighted feels both removed and private, where outward views connect to nature as a priority. The small 85-square-meter home sits on an equally modest site of 280 square meters. The clever manipulation of the building form to engage with natural light throughout the day, while maintaining privacy, creates interesting moments that feel sculptural. The decision was made early on to keep the footprint small and the quality high to try to emphasize how smaller spaces can feel equally as generous as their larger selves.
Anchoring the home to its site sees the use of fluted concrete formwork to create a sense of permanence. As a new insertion to an existing milieu, the structure sits pushed up toward the boundary, creating a courtyard garden in the center of the site. The environment is folded into the home and therefore celebrated in different ways through the spaces created. The intuitive floor plan is formed from a place of restraint and efficiency. Although spread over two levels, the burrowing of the lower level into the sloping site allows a reduced presence from the approach. It provides a considered engagement with the site, whereby the bedrooms are restful, set within the native vegetation below, and feel completely removed from its urban environment. Framing the upper level, the fluted concrete walls sit to the north and east, pulling the overall form together and recalibrating an inward-directed focus.
Light, shadow, and materials have a symbiotic relationship here. The robust external form opens up from within, with glazing providing a connection to the wider streetscape and surrounding natural elements. Light and shadow inform an ever-changing palette. Exposed concrete forms a thermal moderator, black floors and ceilings compress and absorb light, Totara timber wall linings provide warmth and consistency for the vertical elements in the room, while the stone bench is raised on a plinth to create an anchor to the space – designed as a piece of furniture. With the primary focus of the house being away from the sun, it provided a special opportunity to consider how best to let it back in. Exploring how light can be amplified, a 4.2-meter-long ‘slot’ was inserted at the apex of the roof. Together with the ceiling space flaring out, this encourage the sunlight to be directed deeper into the living spaces.
Lightly Weighted reconsiders an inner-urban home, demonstrating the idea that living among others need not compromise on feeling reclusive and calm. With intensification becoming ever more necessary across the world, it’s important to consider how our existing suburbs cater to more people, while still achieving considered, functional, and beautiful family spaces. This is an example of a family home built in someone’s ‘backyard’, which can cater to the need for intensification, without compromising on quality or beauty. If we can address scale, not as a compromise but as an opportunity, it is possible to create urban homes that feel generous and connected, whilst occupying a small footprint.
There is often a hesitancy towards intensification from older generations, who feel their surroundings will be degraded or the character of the neighborhood lost through this process. Lightly Weighted challenges this mindset and offers an insight into how we can enhance our surroundings and improve our quality of life. Lightly Weighted considers all these possibilities and demonstrates how materials, light, and scale can become highly reactive, and connected to their surroundings. The building occupies a 42m2 footprint (85m2 over 2 levels) and uses a combination of cost-efficient materials such as OSB and combines these higher quality options in spaces that we engage with on a daily basis. Locally sourced timber lines the walls, while also serving a functional purpose to conceal kitchen cabinetry, coat cupboards, wardrobes, and laundry.
Light is celebrated in specific locations (ie. the 4.2m long light scoop) which allows us to then consider how best to let it back in. The tiled ‘scoop’ is set at an angle to encourage low winter sun, whilst in summer, the narrowness means that the living spaces are not overwhelmed by sunlight throughout the day. Fluted concrete walls anchor the house on two sides, providing a protective veil from adjacent neighbors, whilst the other two walls are completely glazed, which focuses specifically on the wider aspect and surrounding context. The corner of the house opens to form a covered but exposed sitting area in the summer months.
By prioritizing an efficient floor plan, it allowed the courtyard garden to be established at the front of the house. This becomes an extension of the home and creates an intimacy and more generous extension of space. Traditionally urban homes are focused on being large and functional, which often arises in wasted space, and empty areas once members of the family (eventually) leave home. Here we focused on creating highly reactive and efficient spaces that work well for varying levels of occupation. This is a challenge to consider the ways in which we have lived, and how the possibilities of how we can live, can become even more beautiful.