Bronte Battle-Axe

By Joanna Lukaszewicz

Gardyne Street, Bronte

By: Joanna Lukaszewicz Architect

Photography by Jason Davis. Concept sketch by Joanna Lukaszewicz. Copyright, all rights reserved.

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

Treasures often lie concealed, I thought after my first descent down the long, then rugged and overgrown driveway as superb ocean views and north-easterly aspects of this battle-axe block of land unraveled. That thought lingered on throughout the entire design process. It became the underpinning value that this sense of uncovering a treasure should be somehow kept, to be experienced in the future upon approach to the residence and to continue further, beyond the front door. 

The long access handle runs from the street level at the high end of the site, dropping some four metres in height before reaching the main part of the site well below. As such, the residence is "hidden" and has no impact on the streetscape at all. Viewed from a park across the valley, it hugs into the hill side and blends in with the surrounding development. 

What problems did you have to solve?

The project presented many challenges on the road to maximising the site's potential to meeting the client’s brief, but working within the confines of the multitudinous adjoining development, the primary challenge was siting. The battle-axe handle consumed a large portion of the site area, leaving a much compromised portion of land suitable for development. An early site analysis revealed that portion to be cut across in all directions by ocean view lines from five neighbouring properties. To add to the difficulty, Sydney Water Board’s sewer line cut almost exactly through the middle of the site.  

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

The end result owes credit to a team of highly experienced professionals. It was a pleasure having SJB to assist with town planning and LEC approval process. Barry Smith Engineers provided their invaluable expertise to come up with the structural solutions to the challenging requirements of retaining in the ground and cantilevering in the air. We had the privilege of working with Joseph Tobiano - a great builder with the ability to resolve all site issues while maintaining attention to detail and a very high quality finish.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

Good design was paramount to the success of this project. Bearing in mind the difficult nature of the site, it was a great outcome to have fulfilled the client brief in every aspect. This would not have been possible without the client’s understanding of the value of expensive “manoeuvres” in the ground which were necessary to avoid sewer lines, to keep a low roofline (without compromising high ceilings), and to fit an underground garage and water tank into the hillside. The client also had an understanding of the long term value of using high quality materials and finishes, especially considering the site's proximity to the coastal environment.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

To enable long term sustainability, a photovoltaic system to generate electricity with capacity of 1.5 peak kilowatts was installed on top of the roof slab. A concrete rainwater tank of 10,000L was constructed underground. Despite the site’s restrictive nature, a total area of 160 square metres was planted with indigenous and low water use species of vegetation.

Passive solar design principles have been applied throughout and the greatest effort taken in the design process to enable natural light to infiltrate into all parts of the residence, including the core. Openings in windows have been strategically placed to enable ample cross ventilation and to capture the ocean breezes.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

Upon this once underutilized and awkward battle-axe block now stands a contemporary residence that fulfills the client’s brief and the needs of a family of five. It maximises the value and potential of this superb location. It is functional, sustainable and abounds in natural light. Glazed walls of living and dining areas slide open onto large terraces to create an almost seamless flow between indoor and outdoor spaces with marvelous ocean views and priceless North-Easterly aspect, which will be there for generations to discover, live in and treasure.