A Home Designed as a Sand Castle That Sits at the Top of a Hill

This project was a joint venture of architects; Rafaello Rosselli and myself, Luigi Rosselli, plus the hands of Romy Alwill and William Dangar. It was like a sonata by piano with four hands. Sydney Harbour has got lots of inlets and points so there is a point and a bay and a point and a bay and a point in the bay. We are one of those but it’s the most exclusive one of Sydney. It has very calm and beautiful views of the harbour. The clients came with this brief on a site which was a very steep site, 45 degrees.

Nobody wanted; sewer line running through it, difficulty of access, difficulty in construction because not only it was steep but it wasn’t a stable ground, it was all sand. Getting an access to this house wasn’t easy. So we devised an entry at the street level and in that space you have a spiral stair going up over the retaining wall and you arrive at the top of retaining wall and you look back towards the views and so it’s the first realisation that in fact you are in a very special spot. You reverse back and climb this gorge track then goes up.

They do that every day but we should have a lift so they asked for the lift which was easy said and not easy done because basically we had to go underground with a tunnel and then arrive to this tunnel which we decided to use a neve klein blue which is a very intense blue ultraviolet blue. Up-lighting it and you have a lift at the end of this and then you pop up four stories above the street. All this, it’s quite amazing how when you perceive the house from the street it feel like a castle. Big slope, towering three-story building on top of it sheer wall of bricks coming down into the ground and being submerged into the greenery. The courtyard is really the heart of the house.

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This contrast between the very very steep front and the flat level which makes the house liveable, which embrace the northern aspects, the northern sun. So it is very much private which is beautiful with olive trees and planting done by Will Dangar which planted 99 percent native plants. The garden is very important component to re-heal this construction process. The main material selected for this house was purely a choice from Rafaello. The client wanted that natural, easy maintenance house. His response was bricks. The bricks that he selected is really beautiful material that is handmade. The shape is slightly regular it feels like it’s been there for centuries.

There was elements of the bricks which were reinvented as a breeze solet, which in French means a sun brick. We use the bricks vertically and horizontally to form kind of a special lattice. Fundamentally everything is held together by the beauty of detailing thanks to Romy.

The client’s brief for us was very much around creating just a very warm, unpretentious family home, not a show piece home but very connected to the site and the context. The brickwork gives this beautiful texture to the building so it definitely was something we had to be conscious of when selecting other materials. We’ve selected a beautiful honeyed oak for all the flooring and the joinery. That also paired with those beautiful veins coming through of grays and cooler tones. And then in some areas there’s slightly sort of shimmery textures like the splashback in the kitchen and some of the detailing in the bathrooms.

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When it came to introducing furniture and layering up other elements in the home, it was a nice tease I guess with the house to play with less earthy colours and more contrasting textures, some unexpected moments of colour and pop and a little bit of playful tension. And then we’ve got some elements where sculpture plays a beautiful role in creating another layer of form to the spaces. The house was designed as a Luigi and Rafaello tandem project. The classic Luigi curves that we all know have had the next generation overlay over them, and the space is directed by some unusual angles.

They work so beautifully in this house as a contrast to all the solidity that’s around it. Rafaello’s creativity it is a creativity which is different from mine, it’s very able to carve and build on structures in a way that a sculpture would think finding balance. The part which surprised me are the one which I like the most. It is so airy fresh, you can control the air movement, you can control the light. The furniture is wonderful, artwork is amazing. The scale is perfect. It’s very homely in a good sense of a term. And it is a collaboration very free where nobody kind of dominates the other person but everybody brings in their incredible skills. I feel like this house is nourishing and warm and grounded and cozy yet playful all at the same time, it feels like a couple of different dialects of the same language are happening at once in this house which can be difficult to achieve but I think we’ve got the language flowing throughout the house really nicely.

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Architecture is a beautiful profession, you try to imagine everything but you cannot imagine how the sun will brush the brick in that certain time of the day and cast a shadow in the right place. When I see the building coming together and today walked around the house and see it all, it is full of surprise and no surprise the greatest satisfaction of our profession.

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