Win­ner: Robin Boyd Award for Res­i­den­tial Architecture (Houses, New)

In Aus­tralian ar­chi­tec­tural terms – as well as real es­tate ones – south-fac­ing houses are nor­mally con­sid­ered a mis­for­tune. They’re dark and cold, and if they’re on the coast they’re of­ten ex­posed to harsh el­e­ments such as strong winds and lash­ing rain. So, when a site is hemmed in with an un­ex­cep­tional (and large) house to the west, an even less re­mark­able three-storey block of flats to the east, a sub­ur­ban street of dou­ble garages and cheek-byjowl man­sions to the north but the most spec­tac­u­lar and im­pres­sive views of Syd­ney’s eastern sub­urbs beaches to the south – it presents some­thing of a chal­lenge to the ar­chi­tect to cre­ate a build­ing that cap­tures the view but is de­light­ful to live in.

The win­ner of this year’s most pres­ti­gious award for Aus­tralian house de­sign, the Robin Boyd Award for Res­i­den­tial Architecture, man­ages to per­form such a con­jur­ing trick. De­signed by Dur­bach Block Jag­gers Ar­chi­tects, Ta­ma­rama House achieves some­thing ex­tremely rare in coastal house de­sign: a south-fac­ing build­ing that is light-filled and wel­com­ing. “Be­cause it is south-fac­ing we were al­ways ask­ing our­selves, how do we make this build­ing happy and buoy­ant?” says Neil Dur­bach, a prin­ci­pal of Dur­bach Block Jag­gers along with Camilla Block and David Jag­gers.

The house is in a street where build­ing en­velopes are max­imised – the big­gest house per­mis­si­ble for a par­tic­u­lar site is the norm in this sought-af­ter coastal en­clave be­tween Bondi and Bronte beaches. Dur­bach Block Jag­gers – a firm of 12 ar­chi­tects who have been work­ing to­gether for more than 20 years – took the rad­i­cal ap­proach of set­ting the house sev­eral me­tres back from the street to cre­ate a sunken court­yard gar­den, which would not only cre­ate a buf­fer from the ac­tiv­ity of the street but also al­low pre­cious north­ern sun to en­ter the build­ing. To fur­ther max­imise the avail­able northerly as­pect at the rear, car garag­ing has been placed un­der­ground (via a car lift) rather than a tra­di­tional garage built at street level – a con­sid­er­able en­gi­neer­ing feat and build­ing ex­pense, but one that has achieved de­sign nir­vana: a dou­ble-height north-fac­ing liv­ing room with a pri­vate and pro­tected gar­den at one end and views of the ever-chang­ing sea at the other.

Ac­cord­ing to Dur­bach, there is a ten­dency when clients have a site with an amaz­ing out­look to build a house with a lot of glass to take in the view. “The client

The over­all ef­fect is a south­fac­ing house filled with di­rect sun­light and screened from its neigh­bours on ei­ther side.

here re­ally un­der­stood the idea of a framed view,” he says. “Through­out the house there are open­ings where you can see the view mo­men­tar­ily and then it dis­ap­pears, rather than be­ing a sort of cin­e­matic view on all the time.” In the main bath­room, there are small open­ings with a vista that can only be seen when you are stand­ing in the shower re­cess. A guest bath­room on one level has two an­gled open­ings from the per­spec­tive of the bath. “One looks up and one looks down so you can lie in the bath and see the sky or see the sea,” says Dur­bach.

On the west­ern wall in the main liv­ing level of the house there is a thin strip of glaz­ing at the top to cap­ture west­ern sun in the af­ter­noon; on the eastern side small open­ings let in the morn­ing sun and what Camilla Block calls “sneaky ven­ti­la­tion”. Else­where sky­lights and tur­reted win­dows bring in light from above – the over­all ef­fect is a south-fac­ing house that is filled with di­rect sun­light through­out the day and is screened from its neigh­bours on ei­ther side.

Tiny glimpses of the sea can also be seen from the street (look­ing through the house) which gives the im­pres­sion that the house is sit­u­ated on the edge of the wa­ter, when in fact it is sep­a­rated from the cliff face by the city’s fa­mous coastal walk that runs from Bondi to Coogee. “None of the other houses on this street al­low passers-by to do that [see the ocean], I think it’s re­ally cool,” says Dur­bach. By not suc­cumb­ing to the idea that a spec­tac­u­lar view de­mands to be cap­tured with a huge pic­ture win­dow, Dur­bach Block Jag­gers have cre­ated a house that has a mas­sive qual­ity to it. “It’s a very solid house but you never feel like, oh, can I get some more view,” says Dur­bach.

The house is spread over three floors with a mez­za­nine above the lower level. Bed­rooms are on the up­per­most level and are ar­ranged, ac­cord­ing to Dur­bach, like a game of Tetris. “Each level has its own kind of floor­plan idea. The bed­room level is in­cred­i­bly com­pressed, it’s very tight spa­ces kind of locked to­gether,” he says. “The next floor down [with the court­yard gar­den and main liv­ing room] is this sim­ple big thing with al­coves off it. And then the bot­tom floor which is this much loop­ier curvi­lin­ear space. The house changes gear quite quickly across the site.”

Con­struc­tion of the house, which is largely made from tex­tured and sculp­tural con­crete, took two years to com­plete. There are fine de­tails ev­ery­where in this house – for ex­am­ple, a con­crete spi­ral stair­case that runs through the house per­fectly winds around an el­e­gantly formed steel cen­tral col­umn with down-tothe-mil­lime­tre pre­ci­sion. “The house has been beau­ti­fully built – it was a builder we hadn’t worked with be­fore, but I think very few builders would have got this to­gether,” says Dur­bach.

The Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects started its na­tional awards pro­gram in 1981 and named its most cov­eted res­i­den­tial award af­ter ar­chi­tect, writer and ed­u­ca­tor Robin Boyd, whose fa­mous book The Aus­tralian Ug­li­ness was a con­tro­ver­sial cri­tique on Aus­tralian sub­ur­bia. This is the third time Dur­bach Block Jag­gers has won the Robin Boyd award, a record for an Aus­tralian ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tice.

This page: the kitchen with mir­rored fridge and con­cealed pantry and el­e­va­tor be­hind; a trib­ute to Le Cor­bus­ier; a sky­light il­lu­mi­nates a stair­well

Op­po­site page: Ta­ma­rama House from the street, with its car lift; the views from the main liv­ing space, to the street across a sunken court­yard gar­den, and out to sea on the other side

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