Solid as a rock - A challenging section on Gunyah beach in Bundeena, forced Clinton Murray to rethink the vernacular (perhaps simple) Australian beach side house and create a resilient coastal retreat. Built to last forever.
Huge boulders throughout the cliff side, would have made slapping a wooden prefab house on the top of the plot the easiest option. Choosing instead to hide the house well down the plot near the breaking shoreline, posed challenges, yet rewarded both the architect and owners with stunning results. It also appeased the planning officials and nearby residents.
"The linear site is divided midway by a massive rock face, defining two distinct levels. The natural, sheltered enclave at the base of the rock face is where we believed the building belonged."
Tucked into the hillside, the copper clad roof has set out to weather itself in the ocean green shade of the bay beyond, further minimising the impact of the building for neighbours above.
Combined with the weathered copper is the solid base of the house. The ground floor living structure, of textured off-form concrete made with horizontal board forms, gives the impression of weathered timber, which contrasts with the fresh browns of the Oregon sleeping quarters and gallery above.
Building on a series of staggered rock platforms, the logistics of site management for labour, plant & equipment was challenging. All materials had to be craned in or manhandled from the top of the site, or from the beach front below. The entry stairs and concrete bridges required innovative reinforcement and form work solutions to achieve both continuous spans and the appearance of thin concrete blades hovering above the site. These thin blades continue inside with kitchen bench tops and bathroom surfaces formed on site of ultra thin jet black concrete.
To reach the timber front door, you negotiate the rock face via timber steps that weave through the boulders. Crossing a bridge that leads to a discreet front door you push open an oversized panel to reveal the high stud gallery. Strategically orientated, the full height end window of the gallery frames a nearby palm. Everything is overscale, stretched vertically, to relate to the magnitude of the cliff face behind the building site. Here, the reused Oregon timber stands vertical, allowing the seams to disguise two door panels, behind which hide two of the three master bedrooms. Each with, en-suite, balconies and outstanding views across the bay.
Heading down the hillside, you arrive at the main living quarters, housed in that heavy masonry base of textured off-form concrete. As with the rest of the house, glass front windows bathe the room with light, yet here, in contrast, the kitchen area to the rear and cubbyhole rooms, are lined with dark black concrete floors and bench tops. The darkness providing refuge from the summer heat, and mimic the caves often found tucked into cliffs around the Australian coast.
Also taking notes from nature the orientation of each level shifts as you rise up the cliff face. Thus forming fronds like the nearby palms, and allowing the building to sit back, minimising it's visual impact from the shoreline.
"The house sits with its toes touching the sea and with an exposed worn rock face at its back, both constant reminders of the power of wild storms blowing in from the north-east. And should the big seas come, this house is a safe haven, no question about it."
Architect Clinton Murray
Project team Polly Harbison (Project Architect), Tanja Klocker, Jeff Umansky
Project Gunyah Beach House
Location Bundeena, New South Wales
Builder Bellavarde Constructions
Structural Engineer O’Hearn Consulting
Landscape Architect 360 degrees
Photographer Simon Kenny