For decades, this site with undisrupted water views in Sydney’s Northern Beaches sat almost empty, hosting only a small, post-war beach cabin. The owners of the block had a long family history in the area (their ancestors were those who built the original cabin) and wanted to honour this heritage, but with a house that could accommodate ongoing family holidays, on a rotating roster.
Benn + Penna Architecture were brought on to design the project, retaining and drawing on elements of the original cabin and surrounding landscape in their response. Central to the design is the existing and extended stone terrace, which effectively establishes an elevated platform for the new home, allowing it to emerge almost seamlessly from the cliff face. ‘The existing platform is built with great sensitivity to the landscape and its natural surroundings, with a strong history and presence on the site, making it a great backbone for architectural composition and concept,’ says Andrew Benn, director of Benn + Penna Architecture.
The actual house adopts two distinct forms across two storeys – a platform and a timber canopy – deliberately distinguished to intensify their respective functions. The timber canopy is the main building mass, containing four bedrooms and a ‘bunk room’, and punctured by voids to channel light and air throughout.
The living space is contained beneath this upper element, framed by the canopy’s gently arcing underbelly. Large doors enable this space to be entirely open or closed, allowing versatility as required. ‘To me, the charm of this project is in its interplay between distinct roof and platform elements, which frame a space between horizontally sliding planes and sculpted spaces,’ says Andrew.
The use of pale blue on the facade and some interior walls is a nod to the previous cabin on site, as is the broader materials palette, composed predominantly stone and wood.
Andrew says this home is best understood as drawing from the landscape, enabling the occupants to immerse themselves into their surroundings. ‘The restrained architectural form and deliberately modest built imprint ensures the client’s requirements for a comfortable and relaxed holiday experience don’t conflict with the natural beauty of the site,’ he says. As Australia’s coastlines become increasingly more developed, Benn + Penna hopes this house can act as a blueprint of appropriate design.