New Yorkers call it ‘Upstate.’ Londoners call it ‘the Country.’ But for many of the so-called Sydney-siders, living just about an hour north of the CBD in and around the stunning Pittwater Bay, it’s called home. And the design brief for the James-Robertson House set upon a steep slope at Great Mackerel Beach overlooking the bay was to provide the owners with a permanent residence that separates living, sleeping and guest spaces in three pavilion-like glass, steel and copper structures.
The Sydney-based team of Casey Brown Architecture abides by principles of lying built form atop of the natural environment, and their house perched above the blue waters of the bay is no exception to the practice. For the James-Robertson House, the architects, who also live on the hillside, employed their local knowledge of climate and topography in the relationship between the natural and the tectonic.
After crossing the bay by ferry, visitors and the very few local residents arrive at Great Mackerel Beach via a pier that jets out from the shore. The homes on the hillside sit at the edge of the Ku-ring-gai National Park – a vast expansive protected area just north of Sydney – and no road access means no cars at all – the dream of many urbanists worldwide.
The structure of the house is comprised of three double-storey pavilions that are anchored down into the rock formations yet seem to hang off the steep hill. The climate-sensitive design allows the vast open areas to capture sea breezes from the South Pacific Ocean just out beyond the Bay. Sunlight is effortlessly filtered through folding hoods, mechanical blinds and eaves and long overhangs. The entire steel structure was painted black, which helps the house fade into its natural environment. Along with the structural materials, the architects placed a copper roof above and used local timber and stone.
The two pavilions below house a guest room and bathroom on the lower level, while the main kitchen, dining and living areas are accessed via an exterior stone stairway. The upper pavilion sits 50 metres above the lower, and can only be accessed by riding aboard a very steep inclinator. The pavilion contains the laundry area below, and the master bedroom and bathroom were placed on the highest point for the most expansive views of the surrounding landscape. By Andrew J Wiener