The clients are a young couple with two teenage boys, they were interested in wellness, a connection to nature, and open plan living in which all family members are closely connected, but the private and communal spaces are clearly defined. Also, in creating a passive home without air conditioning, relying on operable louvres, large openings, and indoor-outdoor spaces.
The site was an empty block, located in Seaforth, a beautiful leafy suburb, perched atop a rise overlooking Middle Harbour and fringed by national parks. It was very overgrown and looked to be used by the neighbourhood kids as a hang-out.
The first approach is to celebrate the rock and float the house lightly over it, while also connecting with it at key moments internally. There are also a number of significant red gums framing the views and enfolding the site, so it was important for the house to intertwine itself, and create a language with the features of the existing site.
Stafford Architecture wanted particularly to accentuate the lightness of the building above the sandstone outcrop. This ‘touching the ground lightly’ was important to maintaining the spiritual connection that was so apparent on their first visit. The house is to feel weightless and airy for the inhabitant, somewhat of a ‘treehouse’ floating in the canopy, even meeting the heavy rock with floating structural steel elements and glass – delicately connecting physically and visually. There was also an intent for the spine of the house and the main central stair to tie together the private and communal spaces, and maintain constant connection – there are minimal doors to close off spaces, more often using changes in levels to define spaces instead. This gives the home a strong sense of connection both with its inhabitants and with the significant surrounding landscape.
Externally, a concrete blade wall acts as the spine of the building, separating the grounded private wing that hugs the site – made up of garage, bedrooms and the white screened private open ensuite to the first floor master suite. From the more stated communal wing that hovers lightly above the rock, screened for privacy from the street frontage, while still allowing ample sunlight, by vertical spotted gum battens that mimic the rhythm of the trees. With a sharp-edged roof accent to highlight the sensibility to the rock below, and draw the eye up to the tree canopy internally and externally. A boardwalk and copper standing seam cladding marks the entry, drawing the visitor in and up to the internal living spaces.
Inside, the spaces are bright and spacious, a natural pallet of raw materials is utilised, off-form concrete, oak timber boards for floors and ceiling, copper standing seam cladding which is both interactive and ‘reactive’ by nature – the patina developing externally with the weather, and internally where touched and highly trafficked by the inhabitant. Deep framed windows were used to create a place for refuge and connection with nature. Carefully considered curves in the joinery and textured finishes bring softness and playfulness to the bold architecture. The clients were also very keen to keep the pallet of materials raw and authentic. The brass in key spaces creates a moment of interest, a glint that catches the eye, while still maintaining the honesty of simple materials without ‘decoration’.
Overall, the biggest challenge of the project is to comply with the height requirements without cutting into the rock below which requires clever planning to the main street frontage. Stafford Architecture accommodated a second level by creating a mezzanine over the kitchen that opens to a double-height void over the living/dining areas. The sharp pitched angular roof provides for the interior spaces and delineates the height restrictions while giving generosity to these spaces. Maintaining the rock as ‘untouched’ was another challenge; structural connections were made as minimal as possible, services were concealed within the voids of the existing sandstone, and the loose boulders were re-purposed amongst the landscaping.