How This Australian Beach House Connects to the Coast Is on a Whole Other Level

How This Australian Beach House Connects to the Coast Is on a Whole Other Level

By Mandi Keighran
On the outskirts of Sydney, Bundeena Beach House’s green roof and sculptural skylight are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to honoring the environment.

Known for its picturesque beaches and bush walks, the coastal town of Bundeena lies within a Royal National Park an hour’s drive south of Sydney. It’s here, on a small, rocky headland at the end of a secluded beach, that a Sydney-based family of four decided to build a weekend retreat. They approached Grove Architects with a simple brief—to create a new home that was all about its connection with the environment.

Bundeena Beach House connects the street and wider community to the water views beyond thanks to its low-lying form and a native roof garden, which the architect describes as a "green infinity edge."

Prior to the home being built, the site was unattractive and poorly utilized, occupied by a run-down, fiberboard shack. Although the site had stunning, uninterrupted water views, the steep slope from the road to the beach was challenging in the design process. Architect Sky Grove also saw the need for a high level of sensitivity and good citizenship.

A fully glazed wall—which incorporates both louvres and sliding doors—connects the dining room and kitchen to the deck and garden. The natural slope of the site replaces the need for a fence between the garden and the beach.

"When we talk about good citizenship, we are referring to the need for architecture to not only respond to its own site and brief, but also to respond to its greater context," says Grove. "In this case, we felt that opening up views toward the water across the site would be of huge benefit to the community. We also saw an opportunity to engage with the community by opening up the boundaries of the house’s garden and connecting it directly with the adjacent public reserve." 

So, instead of attempting to relate to its built context—which is characterized by walled gardens and garages—the low-set home provides a moment of relief, connecting the street with the beach and water beyond.

The green roof is planted with local succulents, including cascading pigface.

Key to this is a roof garden, which is designed to appear as an extension of the natural landscape. Planted with native succulents and grasses endemic to the local area, the green roof is a low-maintenance feature that has a number of benefits, such as increasing insulation to the home, decreasing storm water runoff, and reducing glare in the surrounding environment.

At the heart of this roof garden—and the home—sits a dramatic, sculptural skylight. "At night, it signals the house beneath, gently glowing from the inside out and, during the day, it draws sunlight deep into the house," says Grove.

A large, sculptural skylight has been created at the center of the home to enable day-long solar penetration. The triangular glazing frames views of the trees and the sky, bringing the outdoors into the interior.

The top of the skylight has been conceived as a "solar reflection pond," with a 16-panel photovoltaic system that leads the eye through the garden. This, in addition to a Tesla battery, provides all the home’s electricity, and connection to the grid is used only as backup.

The kitchen and dining space opens out onto the timber terrace, which has expansive water views.

The majority of the kitchen is set into the rear back wall, which is painted black to ground the house in the sloped site.

The timber deck extends the living space outside to create an indoor/outdoor living environment.

The western orientation of the home opens up expansive water views—particularly from the kitchen and dining room—but affords limited northern and eastern sun. The skylight, and the internal void beneath it, is a response to this, allowing light to stream in throughout the day. "The butterfly shape of this skylight is not whimsical," says Grove. "Rather, it has been designed with strategically oriented, vertical triangular panes that prevent overheating from the high midday sun, maximize eastern and northern sun exposure, and minimize any further western load."

A bespoke timber joinery unit serves as a semi-partition between the kitchen and the living space, giving a sense of separation without disconnection. Dramatic patterns of light and shadow from the sculptural skylight play over the space.

The living room features a Cheminee Philippe wood-burning fireplace, which has a large heating capacity. By placing it below the void, it is able to heat both the downstairs and common areas upstairs.

Additionally, these triangular forms invite interaction with the sun’s movement, a dance of light and shadow that is played out on the expansive white walls beneath the skylight. "Not only is this beautiful, but it provides an important psychological connection with the surrounding environment," says Grove.

The house uses natural cross-ventilation across both levels and vertically through the void. Banks of glass louvres throughout enable this cross ventilation and provide a constant connection with the environment.

The structural slab on the ground floor has simply been polished as a cost effective, practical, and durable flooring solution, especially to the sand and salt.

Defying the complex contours of the site, the house is arranged over two levels across three distinct volumes. A "sleeping volume" clad in Cor-Ten steel sits atop a glass-enclosed "living volume," and these two forms are intersected by a double-height, timber-clad "multipurpose volume." Each box is clad in a single durable material, selected in direct response to the often harsh environmental conditions of the coastal location. 

A Cor-Ten steel "sleeping volume" seemingly floats atop a predominantly glass "living volume." Intersecting these two stacked volumes is a double-height, timber box which houses the multipurpose spaces.

The master bedroom—located in the "sleeping volume"—has views over the water. The bedrooms are left unheated, and ceiling fans are used for cooling in summer.

The bathrooms are dark-tiled with timber-lined walls to create a sense of intimacy and privacy.

"The first floor houses more intimate spaces—bedrooms and bathrooms—and, as such, this volume is clad in a solid, protective material, creating a sense of cocooning," says Grove. "As it sits above the glass-clad living volume, this sleeping volume appears to float above the landscape, especially when viewed from the beach or water." The timber-clad, multipurpose volume contains family spaces, including a large room for music and pottery on the ground floor and a media room on the first floor.

The multipurpose room looks over the garden. The outdoor shower visible in the garden is screened by a timber fence, the only area of fencing to the public.

The entrance to the home is on the upper level and leads directly to the void beneath the skylight to encourage an immediate understanding of the spatial arrangement and intuitive circulation.

The home is entered on the upper bedroom level, but by organizing the entry point around the void beneath the skylight, the spatial arrangement of the home is immediately clear. The lower level remains connected to the entry and roof through the double-height void, and opens from the kitchen and dining space on the ground floor to a native garden with spectacular water views.

The windows on the Cor-Ten "sleeping volume" are more modest than the expansive glazing on the ground floor "living volume." They are screened for privacy and frame key views from each of the spaces.

"The clients really believed in and shared our vision to create a sensitive, environmentally and community-minded house that prioritizes quality of environment over size or prestige," says Grove. "The home was a joy to work on."

Ground floor plan of Bundeena Beach House by Grove Architects.

First floor plan of Bundeena Beach House by Grove Architects.

Section of Bundeena Beach House by Grove Architects.

Related Reading: This Resurrected Beach Home Near Sydney Stands on a Concrete Leg

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Grove Architects / @grovearchitects

Builder: Barry Built

Structural Engineer: Cardno

Civil Engineer: Structerre

Landscape Design: Bates Landscape  

Lighting Design: Grove Architects

Interior Design: Grove Architects


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