Wongi, Fitzroy North

Wongi is a conversation between two eras – the way things were done then and how we can choose to live now.

Council heritage rules mandated the front façade and front two rooms of this heritage terrace be retained. But it was literally falling down so after its inevitable condemnation, had to be re-built to replicate of the original. This painstaking and expensive process required specialist heritage architects and engineers. It was immaculately executed by skilful builders and craftspeople with stucco parapets, cornices and urns re-created to match the colonial original. Meanwhile we upgraded the structure and thermal performance to include higher levels of thermal mass, insulation, double glazing and solar power to complement it’s all-electric operation.

Liberated from the heritage constraints, the rear extension expresses a contemporary sensibility towards the Australian climate and culture, working with the elements to create natural comfort and connect people.

Where the original presents to its street with the grandeur of an elevated vantage, high parapet and small private windows, the addition engages with its rear street openly, at grade with a retractable sliding fence, full-width bi-fold glass doors and folding arm awning that draws the living spaces out to the street.

Where the 1900’s form uses a deep verandah to block out the harsh Australian sun, as was the colonial wont, the contemporary addition rakes up to embrace winter sun and, enabled by technological advancement, employs operable external venetians and awnings to control it in summer.

On a 150m² terrace with a party wall running the entire north boundary, natural light and passive solar is sparse. Sculpting a three-bedroom house into a form not visible from the street, as dictated by heritage, and not overshadowing neighbours is challenging. The chamfered form achieves both of these while also drawing in sun and assisting cross ventilation facilitated by windows on the south and north sides.

Colorbond walls respond to the urban context in two tones that visually diminish the form. Internally, a bright neutral pallet against warm spotted gum emphasises natural light and sense of space while mirrored walls create an illusion of depth.

Owner’s Statement

The owners re-built according to the detailed heritage drawings and re-used the little that they could; the stone steps, the front door handle and lintel and the two unique pyramid features on the decorative parapet.

The original house was built in the early 1900’s. They wanted the building to reflect the totality of the society in which it was created and recreated – providing a 21st century perspective. The demolition of the original building allowed honouring the history and adding to it. The aim was to combine past and present a coherent reflection of the social narrative in which the house exists. The various owners of the house over time represent the hybrid nature of Australian culture; the Anglo-Australian who built it, the Greek family who may have contributed the pyramids and the current owners representing the First Nations people of this country and migrants from Reunion (France) and Ireland.

The owners named the house WONGI which is the name of the West Australian tribe (Wangkatha) to which Kate’s maternal Grandmother belonged. At the time the house was originally built, an exciting prospect of a home for the occupiers, Kate’s Grandmother was 8 years old, on country, being hunted down, removed (stolen) and placed on a mission. The name of the tribe is proudly stuccoed on the reconstructed parapet taking its place beside the other terrace names in the street; Florence, Violet, Elsinore and interestingly – Hiawatha. WONGI is a gesture to moving beyond Australia’s culture of selective remembering.

Wongi also means an ‘informal talk or chat.’ This house is a conversation integrating history; how things were done then and how we can do them now. The owners were committed, on both a bricks and mortar and symbolic level, to use the past to look forward. WONGI has prompted chats between the owners, their neighbours and passers-by, interested in the design and build and no doubt sobered learning the story behind the name. Perhaps these talks are WONGI’s most important contribution to its street.

Project Team: Ben Callery + Matt Eagle

Photography: Tatjana Plitt

Styling: Justine Murphy + Melissa Bailey

Builder: Clancy Constructions