Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, New South Wales
Design King Company
MJM Brick and Blocklaying
With natural advantages of orientation and prospect, one suspects that prior to the arrival of Europeans, Elizabeth Bay was a sunny, protected and abundant place for the indigenous Gadigal people to live and commune.
In 1826 Governor Darling granted Elizabeth Bay to Alexander Macleay. Soon after, a sea wall was built across the bay establishing an estate of 54 acres featuring the beautiful Elizabeth Bay House, which some say is the finest house in Australia.
The site for our project was a later subdivision of the original estate and over time a dense city has grown up around this quiet harbour beach.Today Elizabeth Bay is among Australia’s most densely populated and highly-urbanised areas.
To build a house on this site was a privilege but also a significant challenge for both the architect and builder. Planning and construction was complicated by the site’s narrow width, its limited use set by covenants and easements, and very restricted access.
Added to this were the presence of heritage buildings and landscape features on or adjacent to the site, and simply the density of population living in apartment buildings surrounding and overlooking the site.
Our client wanted a house that would add positively to the streetscape and connect the occupants to this rich and varied context while also providing a private and secluded inner world. It was to be a modern house beautifully crafted with excellent materials and finish but with an ancient air.
I wanted the house to be an honest expression of the way it was built.The loadbearing walls are of brick and so they are expressed inside and out. I also wanted to visually diffuse the relationship between inside and out, so we restrained the palette of materials used to brick, timber and brass, and they literally run everywhere.
The next layer of interior furnishings can work off this very retrained backdrop. But it was a real challenge for everybody involved to get the tolerances, dimensioning and setout of the brickwork such that this was possible.Also critical was the mix of colours. A great deal of planning and material handling was required so that the spread of colour and texture present in each palette of bricks was seamlessly integrated.
The slim 50 mm bricks were chosen because the proportion very subtly broke down the vertical scale of the structure and the walls.The finer scale also allowed us to get a richer and denser mix into these sometimes three-story monolithic elements.
The plan of the three-level house with its wide central hallway, inner courtyard and double-height verandah to the north, gives visual transparency and connection to the rich surrounds, allows cross-ventilation, and offers protection from sun and rain. But most importantly it allows a real sense of enclosure and privacy.
The project also included the integration of a heritage-listed boatshed, a pool and facilities and significant landscape works.
Although Elizabeth Bay is full of fine brick buildings the choice of brick was driven primarily by the aim to build a structure of a timeless quality that would weather and age with dignity.The primary architectural elements that define the house are insulated 320 mm-thick loadbearing brick walls comprising two leaves of 110 mm brickwork separated by 50 mm of insulation and a 50 mm cavity.They provide thermal mass and visual and acoustic privacy and have a visual weight and density that defines rooms both inside and out. Importantly, their warmth, colour and character complement the other building materials and details.
The horizontal emphasis pushes the eye outward drawing-in the external spaces and connections that are so important to the house.The harbour, pool and garden are drawn into the interior spaces.
Between the brick walls and forming the balance of the facade are beautiful western red cedar panels sometimes nine meters high.They act as cladding, window and furniture simultaneously, providing for ventilation, light, view, privacy, and storage and services. Beautiful brass, timber, steel and copper elements complement the brickwork and cedar. Most of these elements and fixtures were custom designed for the project and fabricated by local contractors and tradespeople.
The house also includes the latest technology and environmental systems. Water storage, grey-water recycling, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, lighting control and automation, security, access control and entertainment systems are all the most up-to-date. However they are not overtly expressed; great care has been given to invisible integration with easy and direct interface.
In all, the house attests to a significant collaboration between architect, builder and the many contractors and artisans required to build a house of this complexity. It confirms a belief in the handmade, the crafted and the local, a process underpinned by a client willing to trust in this collaboration and to appreciate and understand the significance of the project and its aims.
Jon King is principal of Design King Company, a leading Sydney architectural and design practice. He studied industrial design before completing his architectural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney where he was awarded the University Medal, the NSW Board of Architects Medallion, the Kann Scholarship and the RAIA NSW Chapter Prize. He also lectures and is a frequent contributor to a number of major newspapers and blogs at http://news.domain.com.au/blog/mypad.
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