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Seacliff House

February 3, 2014

The house provides many options for living and working on different levels, making the best possible use of the small site whilst injecting some fun and fantasy.
Photos: Richard Glover

Everyday life occurs on a platform overlooking the sea. Beneath this the rock is carved out to form a grotto. Above the platform is a protective cocoon for sleeping. And at roof level sits a belvedere accessible via a narrow curved stair, as in a Martello tower.

A house for a family of four, the architects own, offers an opportunity to experiment with ideas. Its carved white exterior is a highlight of the famous Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk.

Designed with the peculiarities of the site rather than struggling against them and on a sliver of land, set against the vast Australian sea, the long north and south elevations are moulded with apertures to control light, privacy and views. These ‘light scoops’, carefully placed cuts and slits, frame and control views, privacy and sunlight.

The ground floor is essentially a transparent platform, which engages with the surroundings. The space is ordered by a series of columns and defined by solid walls only where necessary. Large sliding and pivoting glass doors open to the outside.

The basement level is conceived as a watery grotto. The sandstone is carved away to create space. This connects in an intimate way the house to the very essence of Sydney – its sandstone base. Water occurs at various levels – a pool, a shallow reflecting pool with a bridge and an outside bath. At times strong shafts of light penetrate the spaces, as though rock fissures in a cave. At other times when light levels are low strong colours help to create warmth and atmosphere.

The bedroom level, conceptually a protective cocoon, is a long linear box. It provides comfort and privacy with glimpses out through a variety of openings. The surface of the box is enlivened with series of curvilinear light scoops offering light and selective views out, such as a view of the sky when lying in the bath.

At the roof level, conceived as a belvedere, a study opens onto a small deck. Here, a private sundeck with built in timber seating and a fireplace provides a special place to soak in the panoramic outlook over the ocean or contemplate the stars at night.

Photovoltaic panels generate electricity whilst pigface tumbles over the roof, rain water is collected and stored in a tank, orientation maximises sea breezes and thermal mass, double layered curtains contain the heat in winter and block it in summer, and recycled woods create warmth.

The house provides many options for living and working on different levels, making the best possible use of the small site whilst injecting some fun and fantasy.

The house has won two Sydney Design Awards, NSW AIA Commendation, 2012; Waverley Design Award, 2012 and is on the WIN Long list, 2013.

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