Look, no hands!”

This site of this house is a dis­crete­ly locat­ed 942 square metre block which falls five metres from the street to a Nation­al Park to the north.

The client, Tris­tram Car­frae, a bril­liant struc­tur­al engi­neer was prin­ci­pal of ARUP in Aus­tralia (lat­er to become Deputy Chair of the ARUP group glob­al­ly) and had worked with Ed Lipp­mann on a num­ber of projects, both before and after this project was com­plet­ed — the Andrew Boy’ Charl­ton Pool, Chi­fley Square office tow­er along with oth­er large span projects in Asia.

When Tris­tram invit­ed me to work on this project we were already like-mind­ed friends with an affin­i­ty for light weight struc­tures and envi­ron­men­tal respon­si­bil­i­ty”. He and his wife want­ed to build a new house for them­selves and two chil­dren on the site, inher­it­ed from Jane’s father, who was also an architect.

The St. Ives site is vir­tu­al­ly a bush block sur­round­ed by indige­nous veg­e­ta­tion in the Gari­gal Nation­al Park but, remark­ably, is only a 25 minute dri­ve from the cen­tre of Syd­ney. The ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions start­ed as ear­ly as 2004.

The Carfrae’s brief was for a rel­a­tive­ly large house includ­ing three bed­rooms and two liv­ing areas. The bud­get, by com­par­i­son, was mod­est for the required area but steel and glass – eco­nom­i­cal and quick to build — would allow the desired light­ness with few inte­ri­or walls and sim­ple unpre­ten­tious fin­ish­es to achieve the budget.

The out­stand­ing aspect, ori­en­ta­tion and pre­vail­ing winds came togeth­er to sug­gest the appro­pri­ate rec­tan­gu­lar dia­gram fac­ing north into the bush. The use of repet­i­tive struc­tur­al mod­ules cre­at­ed a visu­al rhythm in the way the house pre­sent­ed the exter­nal world and the way inter­nal spaces are organ­ised. All the low­er lev­el liv­ing areas and upper lev­el bed­rooms, face north while the south­ern side of the house accom­mo­dates the bath­rooms, laun­dry and stor­age spaces.

The light­weight 2.4 meter wide can­tilevered steel roof, hov­er­ing 7 metres above the ground, screams look no hands!” and is a tes­ta­ment to Carfrae’s tal­ents and a result of his close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lipp­mann. The size of columns and beams is pared back so that, like a kite, it almost flaps in the wind while meet­ing struc­tur­al codes and being safe to live in, just! This min­i­mal, no non­sense, approach to design was some­thing both archi­tect and engi­neer took delight in push­ing to its limits.

Entry from the garage and split-lev­el entrance is either up or down a half level.

The expan­sive open plan kitchen, din­ing and liv­ing area is below, sit­ting just above the rock shelf and lead­ing the vis­i­tor to a tim­ber deck and ulti­mate­ly via large slid­ing glass doors into the Nation­al Park.

The west­ern end of the house pro­vides the adults liv­ing area and study/​library with the din­ing area and dis­tinc­tive vibrant yel­low gal­ley kitchen, polyurethane join­ery and island bench. It’s delib­er­ate­ly vibrant, con­tribut­ing to the colour­ful land­scape full of dense native trees and wild­flow­ers in the adja­cent bush,” says Lipp­mann. Anoth­er liv­ing area for the chil­dren, east of the kitchen is sep­a­ra­ble by a large recessed slid­ing doors. The chil­dren need­ed their own space, as much as Tris­tram and Jane did,” adds Lipp­mann. On the floor above, the bed­rooms rooms reflect the parent’s and children’s spaces below — prac­ti­cal for acoustic sep­a­ra­tion and pro­vid­ing a sense of ter­ri­to­ry” for teenagers. 

The out­door spaces are where they need to be, with a cer­tain prac­ti­cal inevitabil­i­ty. In addi­tion to the gen­er­ous north­ern ter­race used as a com­mu­nal gath­er­ing space, there are also sep­a­rate ter­races off the adults’ and children’s bed­rooms with a void out­side the study to keep the two sep­a­rate. The orig­i­nal swim­ming pool was retained because it was ser­vice­able and all that was afford­able with­in the budget.

Land­scape archi­tect Sue Barns­ley, work­ing with the nat­ur­al land­scape cre­at­ed a remark­able indige­nous entry court­yard with a pond on the approach to the house. It’s an unpre­ten­tious house which address­es the client’s val­ues and bud­get and, I hope, pro­vides a sense of refuge, aspect and beau­ty” says Lipp­mann. He also like to reflect on Carfrae’s approach to design — the syn­the­sis of archi­tec­ture and engi­neer­ing – and expres­sion of the parts of a build­ing — what you see is what you get”. Apart from the majes­tic nat­ur­al sur­round­ings, the artic­u­lat­ed skele­tal design is eas­i­ly read”. There’s an hon­esty and clar­i­ty about how the house is made and how it functions. 

For Lipp­mann, the shared val­ues and close dia­logue with his client was the essen­tial chem­istry nec­es­sary for a unique, pro­duc­tive thor­ough­ly enjoy­able col­lab­o­ra­tion. The Carfrae’s even­tu­al­ly returned to the Unit­ed King­dom and the house was tak­en over by anoth­er young fam­i­ly delight­ed by the expe­ri­ence it provided. 

By Stephen Crafti

Project details

  • Loca­tion
    St Ives, NSW
  • Sta­tus
  • Key con­sul­tants
    ARUP, Cof­fey Geo­sciences, Sue Barnsley
  • Builder
    JFC Con­struc­tions
  • Pho­tog­ra­phy
    Willem Reth­meier