Three Piece House



Three Piece House, by Sydney-based practice TRIAS, is situated in a suburban beachside enclave north of the city of Newcastle.

Af Jason Dibbs

A quiet and modest series of pavilions gathered around a sunny courtyard, each structure is poignantly defined by meticulous attention to detail and a material expression that timelessly celebrates a distinct sense of place. In the words of TRIAS, Three Piece House is “a testament to small living in suburbia”.

TRIAS comprises Jennifer McMaster, Jonathon Donnelly and Casey Bryant, all alumni of The University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning. The TRIAS moniker, suggested to the practice by an appreciative client, is a reference to the Vitruvian Triad: the principles of firmitas, utilitas and vernustas — strength, utility and beauty — redefined in the context of TRIAS’s work as ‘solid, simple, beautiful.’ It is not surprising that, in a recent interview with McMaster and Donnelly at the TRIAS studio, the conversation repeatedly turned to discussions of returning to first principles during the design process. Perhaps nowhere in the practice’s work are these principles more clearly expressed than in the award-winning Three Piece House project.

The project comprises two main pavilions connected by a sun-drenched corridor that faces the courtyard garden and a detached studio pavilion at the rear corner of the site. The pavilions are each aligned with the angles of the site’s boundaries and are elevated on a solid-rendered masonry plinth, quietly exuding a sense of permanence and weight. Donnelly has explained how the organization of the program was guided by an engagement “with the Australian culture of combined indoor-outdoor living … creating the potential for mediated spaces, for ‘outdoor rooms’ that change with the seasons.”

The design and construction of Three Piece House is characterized by a sense of modesty, in terms of size and material expression. Bricks were repurposed from the demolition of the preexisting structure and painstakingly hand-cleaned by the client. TRIAS also worked closely with a sustainable timber mill to develop the radially sawn, silvertop ash cladding, creating a distinctive yet timeless façade. McMaster explains this approach as a search for “rough but beautiful” textures, innovating with materials that are “unpretentious and familiar.” The contrast of the clean modernist lines of the skillion (single-pitch roof) pavilions and their plain outward materiality conjures up something of a paradox; an architecture at once strikingly distinct from the weathered aesthetic of its suburban setting whilst simultaneously an exuberant celebration of place.

Underpinning the environmental strategy for Three Piece House was an “inherent understanding of the client’s requirements for a sustainable dwelling, built with sustainably sourced materials.” Three Piece House utilizes cross- and stack-ventilation strategies to capitalize on the inherent conditions of its seaside locale. Ocean breezes cool the house in summer, whilst planted deciduous vines provide shade and allow for solar ingress when the seasons change when the vines lose their leaves. Thermal mass is provided by the strategic use of re-appropriated bricks and rendered masonry, with a brick-paved corridor designed to store solar energy and re-radiate it at night during cooler months. TRIAS’s design also includes an integrated solar power system that the client reports “provides for almost all their energy requirements.”

TRIAS has received broad recognition for their emerging practice and the Three Piece House. TRIAS was named one of the world’s top twenty emerging architecture practices by Wallpaper* magazine in 2017, and Three Piece House has been recognized with the Australian Institute of Architects’ Award for New Residential Houses at the NSW Architecture Awards, as well as the Australia Institute of Architecture Award for Sustainability at the Newcastle Architecture Awards, both in 2018. Having already established an enviable reputation for their residential architecture, and now beginning to explore other architectural typologies and scales in upcoming projects, McMaster explains that the trio are still very much engaged in their work with questions of “how one can live well in urban environments with less” and how “architects can add value and agency to spaces in working, healthy cities.”

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