Between the 1950s and 1980s, a new architectural style called the Sydney School was developing in Australia as a reaction to Euro-centric modernism. Architects began building homes that responded to the landscape of the bush, often borrowing elements of modernist, brutalist, and vernacular architecture to create a new style that emphasized indoor/outdoor living. The village of Pearl Beach, a couple of hours north of Sydney, is home to a lot of the beautiful designs that emerged during that period.
So when Sydney-based architect Polly Harbison was commissioned to build a secondary home for a couple who bought a plot of land in Pearl Beach, the Sydney School became a reference. Except there was one problem: As a response to a recent string of bushfires, Australia introduced legislation with stringent rules about the materials you can—and can’t—build with in the bush.
"You just can’t build that type of house anymore—you can’t build a timber, open, indoor/outdoor pavilion in the bush anymore and comply with our new codes," Harbison explains. "This whole project was really about how do we maintain a strong connection to the landscape and the bush, which is why people love these houses and these areas, but have a different type of building that protects and responds to bush fires?"
Luckily, the client couple, Mima and Carl, weren’t dead set on timber, but had a different material in mind. "They wanted to build a completely concrete house, which is actually quite expensive to build," says Harbison, who adds that Mima is a big fan of Tadao Ando. "So we had to be a little bit more creative with their budget."
To cut down on costs, Harbison used a combination of off-form concrete and cheaper concrete blocks. She designed Mima and Carl a home inspired by the Sydney School’s concept of indoor/outdoor living, and it starts with an entry sequence that’s open to the elements.
You enter from a clearing and ascend an exterior staircase to the main level, which has a partially covered roof deck that’s connected to the open-plan living area.
The side of the house that faces the bush is closed off, but has large picture windows made with flame-proof glass—another expensive material required by the new building codes, which are enforced judiciously. The primary bedroom looks onto the bush, giving Mima and Carl the feeling of sleeping in a concrete tree house. Two guest bedrooms are located on the lower level.
"The whole palette was really just inspired by the bush—all the lovely greens and reds and grays," Harbison notes. "Even though it has got this monochromatic, concrete feeling, there are little pops of color and richness in the tiles and the joinery."
More from Polly Harbison Design:
Structural Engineer: Eva Tihanyi
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