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.
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.
"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.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
"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 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 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."
Related Reading: This Resurrected Beach Home Near Sydney Stands on a Concrete Leg
Builder: Barry Built
Structural Engineer: Cardno
Civil Engineer: Structerre
Landscape Design: Bates Landscape
Lighting Design: Grove Architects
Interior Design: Grove Architects