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New Mews (1/2)

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This post follows on from the Property Supplement post some weeks back now. HCS, an architect in Kerala emailed to say that the narrow gap between houses does indeed function as combined light well and air vent. The climate in Kerala is tropical with a summer RH of 95%. HCS said that ventilation issues mean row or terraced houses are rare there. Instead,

  1. Courtyards greatly help increase lighting and reduce temperature.
  2. Clerestory windows and small skylights with louvres work as stack-effect towers.
  3. Attics and high ceilings are common.
  4. Metal roofing on the windward side should be avoided.
  5. Clay roof tiles on timber framework used to be the norm, worked well with the tropical climate, and lasted more than a century. Nowadays, timber is hard to obtain and metal trusses are commonly used despite the high amount of heat radiated even with clay tiles.
  6. At least two bedroom walls will have windows above lintel level for nighttime privacy and ventilation.
  7. The rainy climate necessitates an integrated front porch with large eaves or a sunshade but most residences have a counterproductive metal roof designed as an afterthought.

I’m not sure how typical this next house is, but it’s definitely no row house.

Many countries have their own version of row or terraced housing and all solve the same problems of population density and land shortage. This is an upmarket London example from circa 1870–1890.

Row houses come in all sizes but are all much the same shape. Some have first floor balconies, often as part of a porch for the entrance below.

Yemen has its tall houses and some of those houses are more joined up than others.

Japan has its machiya. Tadao Ando’s Sumiyoshi House [a.k.a. Azuma House] is said to derive from this tradition and maybe it does but it’s actually a detached house with low ventilation openings paired along its sides and opening onto the 50cm gap left after construction. Architecture or not, cross ventilation is still needed in Osaka where summer humidity is 70%.

Australia has its own version of the row house. As with the early cottages, they were identical to the British Georgian ones but with verandahs added to shade the front and rear walls. The front door would open into a hallway passing by the front room and a room facing onto a narrow side yard along which were arranged secondary and smaller rooms.

The climate in Perth has cool rainy winters and hot dry summers typical of the Mediterranean climate type. Summer maximum daytime temperatures can exceed 40°C and are usually recorded prior to the cooling sea breeze that usually arrives by mid-afternoon. First thoughts for passive design would include ventilation openings on the west and east and eaves or awnings over large windows facing north. Balconies and verandahs still feature in these modern row houses with their facades that avoid repetition and attempt to create the illusion of depth as well as varying degrees of individuality.


If narrow row houses such as the ones above had parking at the front then driveways every five or six metres would eliminate at least half of what roadside trees remain in Perth. The photograph shows how few trees there are not along roadsides.

Instead, such row/terrace developments have parking accessed from a shared rear driveway that functions as private road. We’ve been here before. Those row houses we first saw are in a London street called Roland Gardens. The street behind is called Roland Mews. A mews is a street containing mews houses that were combined stable, garage for parking carriages, and living quarters for the carriage driver and his family who lived upstairs, plus a stablehand who most likely slept on straw downstairs with the horses. This arrangement existed to provide the household at the front with private transport permanently on-call. Here, “on-call” means domestic staff physically relaying requests from house to mews so the carriage would be ready and waiting for pickup at the front at a certain time.

Mews and mews houses are usually located in upmarket areas and though some may retain potentially functional garage space, it’s rare for any internal space to be used to park cars. In areas only slightly less upmarket, it’s not unknown for mews houses to have transitioned to workshops for automotive repair and maintenance. Memory.

From there it’s a short conceptual jump to Tsukagoshi Miyashita Sekkei + Keitarchi’s Garage Hall House that uses the garage space as a lockable hallway mediating between house and street. It’s no garden but could be used as one, perhaps to have a barbecue or to just sit out in on summer nights. Those rear access driveways of the new Australian terrace house suddenly have a lot more potential.

The problem then, is to devise a row housing prototype that’s 1) inexpensive to construct, 2) marketable, 3) flexible and 4) uses passive design principles. Here, when I say flexible I mean something that can grow and/or change over time in a manner that is controlled yet arbitrary. The hope is that this will produce a street elevation having organic variation that’s both attractive and an attractor. Inexpensive construction and not being wasteful of energy are givens. Another assumption is that the land of a single suburban residential subdivision block is consolidated to enable better land utilization and improved construction efficiencies. This modern machiya layout is basically the model. I found two versions, both good. The upper version has a three-room office space at one side and an interconnected two-bedroom house on the other.

I’m not sure who to credit for this layout that adapts old patterns for modern living. This is a one-bedroom house interconnected with a two- or three-bedroom one.

This is almost certainly a Japanese arrangement. In the first example, any floor marked white would indicate bare feet or slippers, while the downstairs circulation space shaded grey is almost certainly one step lower where it’s okay to wear outdoor shoes or special slippers that never leave that area.

It’s the repetition and modularity I see promise in. With long party walls, only the ends are available for light and ventilation and so it’s necessary to have courtyards as combined light wells and air shafts. Stairs are always positioned alongside these courtyards. Kitchens and bathrooms are arranged along this circulation axis on both levels, but having no through circulation on the upper level means the extra space can be used to make the upstairs rooms larger. In fact, downstairs, the through circulation space doubles as kitchen associated with the adjacent room. There’s much embodied intelligence.

• • • 

Here’s a typical block in a Perth suburb. [For anyone familiar with Perth, the vertical roads are Moreing Rd. on the left and Lyall St. on the right. It’s Redcliffe – my childhood neighborhood.] The city block is 190m long by 110m wide (but would originally have been marked out as 212 x 124 or so yards). The original residential blocks are mostly intact and measure approx. 20m x 60m (60ft. x 180ft.) To the top you can see blocks with two dwellings in the same area, and to the bottom you can you can see developments with eight dwellings on an area that would previously have had two. There’s another of these midway along the left side of the image where a private road splits the block into top and bottom. This’ll be the starting point.

I’ve left some space for footpaths and roadside grass and trees, and took a six-meter private road down the middle. I then added the regulation 4.5-metre main road setback while the communal road has 1.5-metre setbacks I’ve represented as a footpath. [Ref: R Codes: State Planning Policy 7.3 Residential Design Codes Volume 1, p51]

Ignoring for now the various dispensations for overhanging balconies and such on the street side, this all means that our new mews houses are going to be a maximum of 42 metres deep and, approximately 6 metres wide, and there’ll be 30 each side of the mews road. The sewer will run beneath the middle of that road. As I kid I saw back fences get taken down and trenches dug when it reached our area. People called it deep sewerage.

Let’s suppose this city block with an area of 18,600 sq.m originally had eighteen houses with, let’s say, an average occupancy of four persons. That’s a density of 40 persons per hectare. If we now have sixty houses with an average occupancy of two, that gives a density of 67 per hectare. An average occupancy of 3 persons will give a density of 100 per hectare, 2.5 times the previous.

It’s worth a shot then using the front and rear public and communal setbacks for light and ventilation, and to have internal courtyards as useable space providing additional light and ventilation. It’s a better use of land all round. Roadside trees are preserved on the main road side where there are the new backyards with direct pedestrian and bicycle access. The mews road will be shared surface with ad-hoc parallel parking for visitors.

I can already say it’s going to turn out a bit like the 1950s British Span Houses, only with more variation as every house won’t be built the same way even though they’ll be planned using the same principles, built according to the same system and constructed of mostly the same materials.

While I was working on some layouts, rbuss in Germany emailed to say terraced houses usually involve carrying the garbage through the living room for it to be picked up and that this is more inconvenient if there’s a garden space at the rear. This is true. With Australia’s suburban houses, this was accommodated by the side path, and then later by the through garage. The other problem with terraced houses is that roof drainage usually involves pipes running beneath foundations. Both are issues any new terraced house needs to address.

Next week’s post, NEW MEWS (2/2), will describe my proposal and how much I managed to address these problems as well as the others. My proposal will basically extend and rationalize this 2003 project of mine

and will have much in common with the layout in this next image that I took at a student project exhibition at the University of Western Australia in 2017 and which is all I know about it.



  • Great article, Graham. Thanks for the mention. The devised rowhouse design also looks good. Reminds me of my graduate thesis project. I’ll send it via mail.