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The Observatory

Bringing new colour to a classic Darwin "Green Can" design with a new twist that reaches new heights.


In the aftermath of Christmas Eve 1974, when Cyclone Tracy flattened most of Darwin, the Darwin Reconstruction Commission was tasked with rebuilding the city using more stringent standards "to cyclone code". The resulting houses gave little thought to visual street appeal and climatic comfort. Concerns about houses withstanding another natural disaster resulted in the spread of airtight houses as solid as concrete bunkers that were wholly unsuited to the climate.

The Territory’s first chief minister, Paul Everingham soon realised that his government should not keep supporting the building of houses that people did not enjoy living in and couldn’t afford. He announced a low-cost housing competition for the Top End in the early 1980s.

The newly-established Troppo architects produced the award-winning “Green Can” – an elevated, curved, corrugated-iron-roofed house. It cost a mere $34,000 to build and its form, materials and response-to-climate stood out from the mediocrity of construction in post-Tracy Darwin.

The house, located beside one of Darwin’s most secluded and undeveloped mangrove-carpeted foreshores, is one of the original “Green Can” designs built in Coconut Grove. The current owners have enjoyed their “Green Can” lifestyle for many years, but by 2020, they turned to Daniel and Genaye Stephenson from La Perouse Homes to update it for 21st century living.

The owners wanted to update the existing house and expand the original envelope of the building through the addition of an extended deck and a viewing platform to maximise the breathtaking views over the Arafura Sea.
The new stylish, contemporary deck running the full length of the house, is steel framed and complimented with Kapur decking boards. Slimline stainless wire balustrading creates an unimpeded view to the garden and enhances light to the internal living space. Aluminium stacking doors open the living areas to the deck, inviting the adjacent mangroves into the house and garden.

As a nod to its past, the deck handrail is artfully refashioned from timber used in the original build. Not only has La Perouse created a thing of beauty, but they have also honoured the building’s history and saved precious materials from landfill.

Rising from the deck via a spiral, powder-coated steel staircase with Kapur treads, sits the pièce de résistance of the renovation – the viewing platform elevated six metres into the air. From here, views of the seascape are seemingly limitless. The palette of materials is simple, and sympathetic with the landscape – earth-toned paint colours, slimline wire and timber references and connects the viewing platform with its adjoining staircase and deck below. With each passing year, the new construction will age gracefully in its setting.

The building of the deck, staircase and viewing platform was only part of the story; other areas of the house also required updating. The renovation includes new two-pack, marine-grade paint to all steelwork, the installation of lined and insulated ceilings to the original exposed roof sheeting and a new awning to protect from incoming weather.
The rooms at the rear of the house are linked by a walkway that was designed to be open to the elements to promote increased air flow to the adjoining rooms. The trouble was that wind-driven water would also enter these rooms. La Perouse designed and constructed an awning for this walkway that would protect from weather. Executed using steel rafters and Zincalume sheeting materials, the new awning respects and blends with the original Troppo design aesthetic of the home. Such renovation creates a new, 2021 experience while keeping the essence of the previous design.

When the original home was built, internal rooms were finished with unlined roof spaces. For improved comfort, the owners chose to install insulated, lined ceilings, but they did not want to lose the feeling of a seamless transition from the indoors to the surrounding landscape.
With this in mind, La Perouse lined all the internal ceiling spaces with cement sheet that not only wears well in a space that is open to the elements but also has the added benefit of blurring the transition between the adjoining deck ceiling and the indoor rooms. The result: a quiet sanctuary where interiors, the outdoor landscape, and life effortlessly blend.
The original Zincalume wall cladding, exposed to harsh marine conditions for the past 40 years, was oxidised and sorely worse for wear. It was time for an update! The old cladding was removed, and the walls re-clad in new Zincalume. The Troppo style remains intact and honoured.

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