Kennedy Nolan <em>Milkbar house</em> 2020. Courtesy of the architects<br/>
© Kennedy Nolan. Photo: Derek Swalwell

Kennedy Nolan

Kennedy Nolan

Free entry

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Fed Square
Ground Level

View on map

Kennedy Nolan Milkbar house 2020. Courtesy of the architects
© Kennedy Nolan. Photo: Derek Swalwell

Kennedy Nolan
(est. 1999, Melbourne)

First established in 1999, Kennedy Nolan is a design-focused practice with a distinctive approach to the built form: highly responsive to context and always seeking to create and maintain a strong relationship with the landscape. Kennedy Nolan frequently draws on the optimistic precepts of modernism – rationality, utilitarianism and empowerment by technology – and the idea that design and the arrangement of spaces can support and reinforce positive relationships between people.

Completed in 2020, Kennedy Nolan’s Milkbar House gets its name from the original use of the site as a neighbourhood milk bar with a residence attached. The brief was to turn the handsome but unremarkable late Victorian block-fronted weatherboard house into a family home, with two special requests: a sizeable garage and a large, productive garden, both difficult to accomplish with limited space. To achieve this, Kennedy Nolan based the design on the compartmentalisation of space found in the medina quarters of Arab cities, assisted by a long, high wall to the side boundary that used to house the former milk bar. By retaining this element – which would be impossible to build with current planning schemes – spaces could be organised into walled zones, including an entry courtyard, a garage and a working garden. It’s an arrangement particularly suited to inner-suburban sites, as it provides outdoor space that is private and secure yet fully integrated with the interior. The resulting design captures the essence of the threshold in walled cities, with emphasis on the street door (in this case under the old milk bar awning) leading into a green ‘oasis’ and respite from the street, not to mention a gathering space for the house.

Inside, the social kitchen, living and dining spaces face north into the courtyard. To the west is the study, with passive surveillance behind a small cluster of trees, and to the east – behind a large sliding panel – is the garage and working garden. The sliding mechanism gives the option of connecting the spaces freely, or closing them off to hide bikes, bins, compost and other everyday objects.

‘Residential alterations and additions is a fascinating architectural typology’, the architects have written of the project:

The constraints presented by the existing dwelling, combined with local context and the particularities of the client make for a rich brew of influences. The best results emerge when a concept grows out of a few things – a high boundary wall, a garage and a veggie garden, the idea of a street door in Fez – and becomes much more than the sum of its parts.

In 2021, Kennedy Nolan’s Milkbar House won the award for Residential Architecture – Houses (Alterations and Additions) at the Australian Institute of Architects’ Victorian Architecture Awards, as well a commendation at the 2021 Houses Awards.