Vault­ing am­bi­tion

a har­bour­side vi s ion ful­filled

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE -

When this Syd­ney home was in the early stage of con­struc­tion in 2002, owner David Cur­tis ad­mits that it “looked like a car park” with its cav­ernous con­crete shell and soar­ing col­umns. But in the hands of lead­ing ar­chi­tect Alex Popov, North­bridge House would be­come so much more.

Popov’s vision for the new home on the city’s lower north shore was in­spired by the work of US ar­chi­tect Louis Kahn, specif­i­cally the vaulted pavil­ions of his 1972 mas­ter­piece, Kim­bell Art Mu­seum in Fort Worth, Texas. Like Kahn, Popov was in­ter­ested in the use of con­crete to cre­ate dra­matic spa­ces that play with light. “We’d ad­mired Alex’s work,” says David’s wife Joan. “We wanted to use con­crete and he was very keen to go with that. We had the same aes­thetic.”

The Cur­tises had pur­chased the site as ex­pa­tri­ates in 2001. A 10-minute drive across the bridge to the CBD, it had un­ri­valled views of Mid­dle Har­bour and di­rect ac­cess to the wa­ter. Re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia af­ter a five-year stint in Ja­pan, the cou­ple de­cided to de­mol­ish the run-down 1930s house on the 2000sqm site.

The jetty – ac­cessed via an in­cli­na­tor from the ten­nis court – was re­tained.

The Cur­tises’ brief to Popov was for a beau­ti­fully sim­ple house, like the Ja­panese ar­chi­tec­ture they had come to ad­mire. But they also wanted a func­tional, durable and flex­i­ble fam­ily home with five bed­rooms and four bath­rooms.

“While we were in­ter­ested in the over­all de­sign and tran­quil­lity, the re­al­ity was that we have young, sporty kids and we needed a house that looked good, felt good and worked,” Joan says. “It couldn’t be pre­cious. We needed some­thing that was in­de­struc­tible and prac­ti­cal.”

The re­sult is an el­e­gant home with a mod­est street pres­ence that slopes down to the har­bour shore via three vaults. The first con­tains the en­try, sit­ting room and mas­ter bed­room. The sec­ond com­prises the court­yard, kitchen, din­ing and pool, which can­tilevers over a three-storey void and lies un­der two huge ceil­ing win­dows that al­low light into the cen­tre of the home. The third vault in­cludes a for­mal liv­ing area and stairs to the chil­dren’s rooms, fam­ily room and man­i­cured lawn be­low.

Popov, who re­ceived a com­men­da­tion from the Royal Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects for the project in 2005, worked with Joan to in­tro­duce ma­te­ri­als that com­ple­ment and mod­er­ate the con­crete. “The use of teak fea­tures through­out and the blue tiles in the pool, for ex­am­ple, along with other dis­crete el­e­ments, re­ally soft­ened the home and made it some­thing spe­cial,” David ex­plains.

Lux­ury ex­tras in­clude un­der­floor heat­ing, a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled wine cel­lar and slid­ing doors and walls. David’s favourite as­pect of the home is the sec­ond vault with its in­door mag­no­lia, rem­i­nis­cent of Ja­pan’s in­ter­nal gar­dens.

“I had no idea how sig­nif­i­cant the tree in the court­yard would be,” he says. “It’s be­side the pool, with the open hole in the roof above… I call it the ‘well­ness cen­tre’ be­cause I sit there on my day bed, hav­ing a cup of tea feel­ing re­laxed and in­spired.”

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