South Coogee House

Rolf Ockert. Architect. as Architects


The client had just purchased the site, a small but stunningly located oceanfront property with panoramic views of the Pacific, when we happened to meet at a party. As I had just gone out on my own after many years as Associate Director at a successful mid-size firm I didn't have much to show that I could prove as "my own". After a detailed selection process the client chose to engage me for the design of their new house, probably based on a lot of trust in my ability and the fact that we got on very well on a personal level. Throughout the project this good personal rapport proved to be a very important factor in the successful shaping of the final product, the process being characterised by constructive criticism, unquestioned support and trust where it was needed.


Designing on small site in this wonderful location brought with it major challenges: Provision of views from as many points in the house as possible; A natural and self-evident path of movement throughout the house and a strong connection between the spaces and levels despite the almost terrace-house-like configuration; and the bringing in of lots of natural light despite the fact that the house was east facing and had no direct northern solar access. Despite the potential impact on views from properties in the second and third row we managed to get a three level house approved, taking advantage of the steep sloping site.


The house is designed around an internal courtyard, providing light and cross ventilation to all levels. To the east (the view and breeze) the house opens up almost completely to large decks, with the sliding doors designed to allow many different configurations for the internal-external connection of spaces. A generous open plan living/Dining/Kitchen area at entry level is the central focus of the family's life, with the children's areas located below and the parent's Master bedroom above. A series of stairs, including the open, light main stairs running across the short length of the site, connect all levels effortlessly. Centerpiece on the upper level is the freestanding bath tub in the middle of the room, allowing arguably the best views from any bathtub anywhere. A large, curved sliding door closes off the otherwise open Bedroom area for acoustic and visual privacy. The lower floor is the kid's realm, accommodating three large bedrooms and a large play area with direct access to the lower garden and pool. The main, middle level has a large kitchen, designed to not look too much like a kitchen if not in use, a dining area in its own protruding pocket and the main seating area under a large, curved void. Having been handed very strict height limitations by Council the Void creates a generosity in spatial experience that lifts and enlarges the entire house. Some design decisions, made on site after, for instance, experiencing the play of light through holes in the roof formwork as it was laid, resulted in design features that now pretty much define the house, such as the 3 skylights over the void and the "holey" wall to the garage.

Coogee House

Madeleine Blanchfield Architects as Architects

Conceptual framework The clients brief was for a robust and liveable home for a young family with light filled and uplifting spaces and calm materiality. The house seeks to create a sense of spaciousness and outlook on a difficult site which is steep, long, narrow, has a mono-directional view and is surrounded by many adjoining neighbours. Courtyards are used to bring in northern light, respect neighbours privacy, provide good solar access and sun-shading. They give optional visual and acoustic separation between rooms while borrowing views through other spaces. Layers of open and glassy spaces on the lower level step down the site and minimise the perceived steepness. The house has a consistent awning level that separates the upper and lower form. The lower level ceiling it is kept a consistent height as the floor drops away to the rear garden creating a sense of increasing volume. In keeping with the brief, space and light are the features of the home. A pared back material palette and tones allow the volumes to dominate. The simple palette is made richer with textured finishes such as rough-laid white painted brickwork and rough cut stone. The interiors are completely integral to the house. Timber veneer walls are matched to the structure and windows so that the line between interior and exterior is blurred. The upper level is shrouded in perforated screens, which provide privacy from neighbours and a sense of containment to the more private bedroom and study spaces. The screens throw beautiful, changing shadows and are a strong feature both internally and externally. The context is of modern neighbouring dwellings and little vegetation. The local character is unimpressive, with new houses lacking finesse and building forms unsophisticated. The house sits humbly in the streetscape with a landscaped roof to the garage and set back upper level. The perforated screens to bedrooms create a simple backdrop for the roof planting and have a soft glow at night. The predicament of a double garage on the street is dealt with by integrating the door and using it as part of the facade treatment. Landscape is also integrated throughout the house. The brief for a robust family home has been met with great success. The use of indoor- outdoor rooms and cross viewing provide the separation desired between spaces while maintaining visual connection and view sharing. The use of space, light and materials including double height voids and extreme ceiling heights create a home that feels much bigger than it is. The concrete structure includes large spans, minimal thicknesses and complex connections. Post tensioning was required as was casting in of fixtures and fittings. Close collaboration with the project engineer and builder was required. The house was built cost-effectively. The use of equitone screens, a rendered concrete frame and simple detailing minimized construction costs. Details are intentionally robust so that the materials and junctions can handle some imperfection. The materials and craftsmen available were used to the most advantage. Sustainability Information The primary sustainable principle of the house is the use of orientation and sun-shading to determine the layout and consequently the form. The site faces due east and the house is designed for the best solar orientation, thermal mass, sun shading and cross ventilation. It is comfortable, robust and its greatest contribution to sustainability other than its performance will be its longevity. Awnings, courtyards, screens and windows are all designed around maximising the performance of the home and its sense of warmth, light, ventilation and thermal comfort. Rather than applying random shapes to the building, passive solar design features derive the aesthetic of the home and give shape to the architecture. Rainwater tanks, solar panels, hydronic heating, low energy fittings and the absence of air conditioning all support the performance of the home.

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