Conversion: Church to Modern Family Home in Buena Vista Avenue

Conversion: Church to Modern Family Home in Buena Vista Avenue

June 13th, 2018

This modern home design is currently under construction in Buena Vista Avenue, in Coorparoo.

The house is designed for flexibility to suit a range of owners and occupants and will be marketed for sale on completion.

You can keep an eye on progress at our blog here, or at the agent’s website – as well as their facebook page.

The core concept for this project, and key to the home design: is the resurrection and transformation of a dilapidated timber church, into the core of a modern family home.

From Rural Timber Church to Modern Inner City Home

A number of logistical challenges are being addressed as part of the project, to achieve a comfortable and modern home design, in the inner suburbs of Brisbane.


Church Heart to Home

The design of this modern home seeks to give life to a disused timber church building, by incorporating it as the heart of a new home.

The home is to feature open living spaces; with large kitchen, dining and sunken lounge.  This main space is directly above the internal swimming pool, below.

The 2 spaces are visually connected by a void captured between the sunken lounge and the 2 storey operable wall of stained glass facing the city views.

The stained glass wall is protected from the hot summer sun by an outdoor landscaped arbour.  This both protects the opening, and defines and protects the outdoor landscape terrace which flows from the church spaces.

The double height stained glass wall allows the entire home to be connected, level to level and building to building.  It invites these external spaces in.

From the entertainment court and landscaped arbour, through to the city and mountain views in the distance, the automated stacking doors invite connection to site and place, rather than separation from the elements.

Above the living zones, the master bedroom and ensuite look out from their loft over the living spaces to the city and mountain views in the distance.

Other Spaces Making Places.

Supporting the church are smaller pavilions which provide additional bedrooms and potential for home office, granny flat, and secondary living spaces.

These satellite buildings compliment the traditional form of the church, without seeking to mimic it.  They utilise modern materials and explore modern detailing.  They are attached to the church via bridges which connect the living to these spaces.  In one instance this is an internal bridge link also containing lift access and powder room.  Where the rear pavilion is accessed via an external bridging deck.

The arrangement of the pavilions around the church help to catch rich outdoor spaces forming entertaining areas, terraces and courtyards.  These are further developed through use of a rich landscape backdrop.  The detailed landscape is being designed by John Mongard Landscape Architect

These spaces, the bridges and landscape, recognise that the areas of a home which aren’t built are as important as those which are.  The landscape provides a setting for the home, frame the view through over feature pond, to the city, as well as softening the city and providing privacy from the surrounding neighbours.

The stepping courtyards provide options for outdoor lifestyle which will vary through the seasons.  There are options facing the morning sun, shaded in summer afternoons, and interacting with the street and neighbours.  There are private court spaces in the middle of the site.   And court spaces toward the rear of the home facing the views to the mountains and city and soaking up the winter setting sun.

Process: Logistics of Moving and Creating

The retired church languished in a holding yard over 200km from its intended home.

Relocating the 8m high building on the road network is a challenge.  At 8m wide and 16 m long it is able to be transported with police escort.  However, the height requires the building to undergo some surgery prior to leaving its old home.

The steep roof of the church is removed and separately transported to allow it to pass under bridges, street lighting and the like.  Safe removal requires both sections of the church to be securely tied and braced to minimise damage in transit.

We are able turn this 2 step process into an advantage: by upgrading the church where practical prior to its installation on site.  This includes re-roofing the church, stripping the peeling paint and prepping the church for its new finishes while still in the holding yards and without requiring substantial scaffold for months through the process.

The installation on a narrow suburban block includes challenges of its own including negotiating the falling block.  This will see the church sit at ground level at street, but a level above the ground at rear.

The church is to be supported on steel portal frames which allow clear use of the basement created underneath, for indoor swimming pool, wine cellar, services and storage.

The roof will be stitched back onto the church building, using the steel beams installed for transport as part of the permanent framing of the home.

Architecture, Sustainability and Services

The modern home design seeks to champion sustainability for the benefit of the occupants.  This can be seen in simple design decisions, and extends well beyond the now ubiquitous solar panels (though it does include a large PV array and is designed to include home batteries.)

The home is spun on the site, away from its side boundaries.  This faces the church and home north, allowing for passive solar access to warm the house in winter.  It also allows easier management of the summer sun to exclude excess heat.

The turning of the church away from the side boundaries is out of step with neighbouring homes.  Though this has advantages beyond solar orientation.  The design has evolved from the early sketch plans.  However, they do illustrate the relationship of the house to its northern orientation, and how that contrasts with neighbouring homes.

It reduces the typical 1 or 2m wide gun-barrel corridors of land.  Instead creates larger rich courtyards, more easily able to be landscaped and appreciated.  It pulls the windows away from the neighbours and provides for more privacy.

This re-arrangement on site creates views from the windows of the home, rather than staring back at neighbours blank walls and privacy screens.  This can be demonstrated at the upper level where the loft master bedroom feels like it is floating in space of its own

The site did include an original hardwood framed and tile home.  This was relocated to another block of land to allow it to house a family, as part of the project rather than being demolished and wasted.

The new home is SMALL by comparison with the excess of some of today’s homes.  And yet is not a Spartan exercise in restraint. The home includes a lift, cellar, butler’s pantry, indoor pool and the like.

Yet is around 200sqm of internal area. (Plus cars, pool and cellar.)  This space feels generous.  It is concentrated where it will be appreciated, and opens to protected outdoor rooms.  And of course the massive ceiling height in the church accentuates those spaces.

The eastern and western elevations of the church are tall (approx. 8m to ridge) and are protected by landscaped arbours which both shade the church and for protected outdoor spaces.

Water and Waste

The site includes significant rainwater harvesting captured into tanks buried into the landscape.  This rainwater is to be reticulated back through the site for landscape and pool water and then filtered for use to the home proper.

The stormwater design flows from the tank overflows to detention ponds which act as a visual landscaping feature which also slows the passage and absorption of water.  It is only when this system then overflows that the stormwater is pumped first to a secondary water feature which cascades from front to rear of the site.  And then is finally sent to the council stormwater system.

Energy and Efficiency

The house is designed to minimise its need for artificial heating and cooling, and lighting.  It is designed for positive access to natural daylighting throughout and maximises cross ventilation through the house, and site.

The basement, indoor pool and concrete slab provide for significant thermal mass anchoring the lightweight existing church which is being retrospectively insulated.  The solar pool heating provides for a large body of stable water which connects to the main home via the void through the floor such that the temperature of the home is more stable.  This is further assisted in summer with modern mechanical extraction fitted into the traditional steel cowls on the church roof.

The external fabric of the church is being upgraded with insulation to better meet modern expectations of comfort, and reduce energy needed to achieve this.

Glazing is being selected to further improve the efficiency of the home along with simple shading and screening externally to control summer heat gains.

Technology Integration

The PV, home batteries, heating and cooling, lighting and other home features are interconnected through a c-BUS smart home system which allows their integration and greater control.  This may be as simple as a master switch near the bed and front door.  This allows all the lights to be turned off through the whole home, when retiring to bed or leaving home.  (and, conversely – turned back on easily)

While a simple idea, in a disbursed pavilion style home this is both of great convenience and potentially saves lights being left on all night.

However this system also has capacity to allow the pumps and lighting in the landscape water features to be automatically controlled to suit time of day or water levels OR when required to provide ambience when entertaining as well as connection through communication systems (intercom, security)

It can also monitor the temperature through the home if connected to sensors in the lower, living level and ceiling voids to control everything from pool heating, smart ceiling fans and ventilation in the ridge.

The main church building is not planned to be air conditioned.  Though current energy efficiency modelling tends to assume homes will be air conditioned, this main space is not planned to be.  It is designed to vent well in summer with cross ventilation, ceiling fans and ridge extractors.  It will have efficient gas heating where required for winter.

However, the smaller modern pavilions will be air conditioned as retreats from temperature extremes.  Built to modern standards they are more easily fully sealed from drafts and so the air conditioning can more efficiently be controlled in those spaces.


The finishes through the home are currently being explored as the construction gets underway.  These are being selected over time to compliment and respect the original church building, without trying to mimic it.

The finishes and materials are where possible being selected to be sustainably sourced and used to minimise waste.  The primary control to minimise waste is in controlling the size of the new home built.

Over Time

The construction is only recently commenced on site with substantial tanks being installed in ground to the rear of the site.  The information contained here may evolve through the course of the project to respond to the constraints of the site and client needs.

Slide 1

We are proud in 2022 to have opened this home for Gold Coast Open House, and Sustainable House Day. This movie is now updated for 2023.

Slide 1

This modern home design is currently under construction in Coorparoo. The core concept for this project: is the resurrection and transformation of a dilapidated timber church, into the core of a modern family home.

Slide 1

This modern home design functions as a co-house for 2 families or separate groups. It is being built slowly, evolving with the needs and budgets of the occupants over time.

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