The Left-Over-Space House, located in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of Paddington, has won first prize in the Completed Building House category at the 2013 World Architecture Festival (WAF), which took place last month in Singapore.

The project was created by Cox Rayner and Australian architects Casey and Rebekah Vallance, who spent 10 years designing and building this home on a three-metre-wide lot they bought after getting married in 2003.

Set within an inner-city suburb where empty lots are in high demand, the project was built on a ‘left-over’ space which seemed to lack value or potential. The narrow land is located between a neighbouring heritage dance hall, a workers’ cottage and another old heritage-listed cottage on the site.

Left Over Space House

The house is built on a three-metre-wide lot.

While the existing cottage was incorporated into the building, Rebekah explained they faced many restrictions in trying to build on the site.

“We are in a heritage precinct and very little could be demolished,” she said.

“As well as the old cottage on our site, there is a neighbouring dancehall, which is over 100 years old, and it is built into our land. On the other side, a neighbouring caretaker’s cottage is also built two metres into our land. On top of that there are access and encroachment easements, and we have a sewer pipe for all neighbours running through back.”

Neither these restrictions nor the narrow wide of the site stopped the architects’ from building their own house, and they saw the difficulties as a challenge for their architecture and design skills.

Left Over Space House

The staircase hall serves as the house’s main social space.

“It allowed us to come up with the solution of stringing the house along the long skinny site, instead of it being a standard house. We had to look at every element on the site. The stair is a really good example of that, where we designed it to be a landscape that continues up into the worker’s cottage on site, but also it could be used seats,” Casey said.

The couple has two kids and another one on the way.

“One of the biggest joys for us is to now see the kids starting to interact with the house, seeing them use the stairs as a performance space, or activity space, or grabbing books from the library and sitting in the dappled light from the screens. Seeing them actually use a space that’s designed in a way for them to interact with is really one of the joys of designing,” they said.

Left Over Space House

Lateral view.

The old cottage was renovated and turned into a new studio where the owners work. Behind the cottage, there is an open, roofed and screened staircase hall that serves as the house’s primary social space. A small bridge featuring a library connects this central space with the kitchen and living room, next to which sit the bedrooms and a staircase leading to a roof decked terrace.

To ensure privacy from the neighbours, the architects designed a lateral system made of iron screens with perforations that allow natural light to get through. The screen system slides or swings out to engage the neighbours when desired and to allow sunlight at various times of day.

Left Over Space House

The lateral system of iron screens.

“Each part of this house is designed to enrich the experience of both openness and intimacy, and to belie its narrow stature,” the architects explained.

Every element of the home’s interior and exterior designed and almost entirely hand-made by its owners, from the structural frame to the suspended lights and the furniture.

The house demonstrates a new way of utilising the left over spaces in cities for urban development and denser living.

“This narrow private house demonstrates what can be achieved on the myriad of ‘left-over’ spaces in inner cities, such as disused easements or parking lots,” the WAF jury said in awarding the house with first prize in its category.