Architects: Smart Design Studio
Location: 632 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW 2010, Australia
Architects: Smart Design Studio
Project Team: William Smart, Zig Peshos, Derek Chin, Troy Melville
Project Year: 2010
Photographs: Sharrin Rees
From the architect. The challenge of this site was how to make the best of a spectacular aspect and view while creating a private and liveable apartment building. The parcel of land runs north-south with views to the north and east up to the neighbouring over-scaled apartment building.
We developed a simple and strong diagram, comprising of three components:
1. A large dark-grey block, predominantly containing building utilities, which forms the building’s visual foundation.
2. A series of three-storey high, light coloured cantilevered blades that splay towards the north-east allowing each bedroom and living area to have a view of the water while maintaining a sense of privacy from the neighbouring building and public staircase.
3. An excavated, retained and planted ground plane, which will develop into a lush, green garden setting with tall ivy-covered walls.
The details and materials used, were selected to reinforce the clarity of this diagram and withstand the pressures of time in a corrosive environment. Durable finishes that did not require painting were used – such as low-profile concrete blocks (hand-cut from concrete pavers), and natural stone pavers and cladding where the building connects to the ground.
The interiors have been reduced to the same level of simplicity as the overall form. The building’s utilities such as bathrooms, laundry, elevator and fire stair are grouped together to form a simple core, allowing each of the rooms with a splayed wall to line up in a row. These rooms are configured differently on each floor to allow the top two apartments to be split over three floors and the lower floors to engage with the excavated ground plane. The building’s interiors blend effortlessly with the external areas. This is reinforced through the use of the same stone for the external balconies and internal spaces and, by using a raised floor system on the balconies so that the floor material can be flush.
While the materials are modest, the details are impeccable, providing for another level of interest for those who look beyond the uncompromising form.
In order to achieve the client’s spatial objectives and not adversely affect the neighbours – including by overshadowing/excessive bulk/view loss (we actually enhanced the ocean view for many neighbours) – we used several engineering based technologies. For example, siphonic drainage keeps the roof profile to an absolute minimum and enabled us to conceal the gutters, down pipes and roof flashings. A profiled metal fascia panel, which marries with the expressed primary steel structure, forms the edge to the roof and conceals the retractable louvres. By using these technologies, we avoided having bulk heads in any of the rooms and could make the louvres fully retractable from the window pane to maximise the incredible view. In addition, the floor-to-floor heights are very low yet maintain 2.65m from floor-to-ceiling. We achieved this through highly engineered thin concrete slabs with block outs for each of the ceiling fixtures, enabling a flush appearance for lighting speakers etc., with only a 20mm ceiling void.
The most dramatic feature of this building, however, are the bold and uncompromising concrete block panels, which cantilever without visible support from the dark grey core. Within each panel, is a subtle expression of the floor slabs where the brickwork is recessed 20mm from the face of each blade on all sides. Stainless steel shelf angles and steel reinforced mortar beds, all of which are concealed, enabled us to achieve this tailored appearance in an effortless manner. These tall blades, capped with flat steel plates, cantilever vertically past the top floor by approximately 1.2m and maintain their stability through the use of concealed steel framing, to further reinforce the building's form without complication.
To articulate and emphasise this drama, the vertical glass slot windows run from floor-to-ceiling on all floors, including the glass balustrades on the fifth level. We achieved this by using fire-rated clear glass for the spandrel panels and by using concealed stainless steel reinforcing in the aluminium sections. The west facade of the building, which accommodates the building's services, has a composition of slot windows, light brick panels and rectangular profiled louvres, which perfectly align with the brick courses of the building.
Excellence in ESD is prevalent throughout, by the inclusion of solar hot water heaters, passive solar design, cross ventilation, rain water collection, and energy & water efficient appliances and fittings.
As we developed the design for this building, we discussed the great yet understated buildings of the world, often designed by the likes of Mies Van Der Rohe, that are loved by architects. Our objective was to achieve this through a clear diagram, a modest selection of materials, and refined detailing. With this in mind, and by employing rigorous engineering and design development, we have achieved the illusion of simplicity.