In 1870, a prominent Sydney urban planner and engineer built two grand Birchgrove residences, Maybanke for his sister – Maybanke Anderson – and Normanton for himself – Norman Selfe.
While Normanton has survived intact, Maybanke has suffered from an unsympathetic series of renovations and extensions. Sixty years after Selfe designed and built these adjoining houses the Maybanke house was unceremoniously converted into a plain old block of flats in 1938. As the property was turned from a bourgeois townhouse into a block of workers’ flats, in a fraction of the time and effort and care it had taken to create it 70 years earlier, and with zero concern for any aesthetic or historical relationship to the neighbouring Normanton, Maybanke house thenceforth became known as Maybanke flats.
There was little evidence left of its Gothic Revival sensibilities – nor indeed of its historical significance as the home of the educationalist and champion of women’s rights in Australia’s Victorian Era, Maybanke Anderson.
The current owner of the property, Stuart King, explains her story: “Maybanke Anderson was significant in Australia’s history because she was a suffragette, and was responsible for bringing the women’s right to vote to Australia. She started a preparatory school for women to enter Sydney University and she also was instrumental in raising the age of consent for girls, from 12 to 16. She was also instrumental in getting the divorce provisions into law, and was one of the first women to get a divorce. Of course, this meant she couldn’t own the house. So her brother, Norman Selfe, had to recover the title deed for this house for Maybanke. And then she went on to create a hold of kindergarten schools and Maybanke School.”
To restore the historicity of the building, while bringing it into the 21st century, Allen Jack + Cottier Architects were used. Jim Koopman, Design Director for Allen Jack + Cottier Architects, described the flats as, “an incredibly ugly building.”
“It looked like some sort of tumour on Normanton,” says Koopman. Normanton’s surviving French Renaissance-inspired Mansard roof and Gothic Revival detailing – its stone hood-mounts, ornamental trims, and tall chimneys – were evidence of how Maybanke might have looked before being entombed beneath expressionless masonry, concrete and render.
The fundamental concept for Allen Jack + Cottier Architects was that since so much of the original fabric was gone it had to be reconstructed. Koopman says, “and we also had to make sure any new additions would be a piece of contemporary architecture in its own right.”
The Kitchen’s original stone foundation wall is a feature of the dining room and kitchen. The exposed sandstone has eight convict-style signatures inscribed from when the original structure was built in the 1870’s. There were a few stonemason’s around Sydney at that time, so it was common to use this technique as a way of signing each block. The kitchen splashback has mirror faced cabinets to increase the sense of space and reflect light. The timber batten wall runs the length of the dining room and kitchen, embedded with a lengthy cavity shelf, which blends the spaces together.
Kerry Fyfe, Interior Architect for Maybanke, added, “The architecture is very robust and direct. It draws its strength from simplicity and the materials the house is built from. We wanted to respond to that character, that strength, and create a softness and tactility that provides a space for the people living there. There is a lot of warmth, glow, and texture, from timber and luscious marbles. They are counter-posed against the concrete walls, the concrete floors and stainless-steel benchtops.”
Unsurprisingly, this renovation won a Master Builders Association of New South Wales Award for Excellence in Construction. We think Maybanke Anderson would be proud.
Allen Jack + Cottier Architects | architectsajc.com