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Balmy Palmy House / CplusC Architectural Workshop

Apr 30, 2023Apr 30, 2023

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Text description provided by the architects. Balmy Palmy House celebrates the pleasures of modesty and the simple life. Firmly planted on a steep and rocky slope, this intimate little Palm Beach home suspends you in a bushland canopy. Immersed in the sunshine, trees, breezes, and birdlife, the relaxed holiday feel invites you to recharge.

The site was vacant bushland on the Palm Beach peninsula, 40 kilometers from Sydney CBD. On a steep, rocky slope, a lack of stable subsoil presented a landslide risk. The structure needed to be either excavated into rock or built on concrete pier footings drilled into Hawkesbury sandstone strata, sharing space with a council-protected Port Jackson fig tree and other mature trees. With a tight budget, the design needed to be simple to reduce complexity, construction time, and regular site visits.

A Meccano set - CplusC decided to use a partially prefabricated system to reduce construction time and cost. Our builders simply slotted the pre-made timber posts and beam into three steel axis nodes and bolted them in place, a bit like assembling a Meccano set. Without site measures, there's always a risk that something won't fit. Confident in our team's exactitude and accountability for both design and build, we judged it a calculated risk. Construction went exactly as planned and was completed within a year.

The design - The temptation at such a scenic site is to go big to guzzle up the views, often requiring tree lopping, excavation, rock sawing, and extensive retaining wall construction. CplusC's vision was to keep the house humble and receptive to its environment and to plant it proudly in the ground on bored concrete piers. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom home is a simple timber structure floating above the steep land. Oversized timber columns and beams contrast the lightweight roof and stilt legs. Extensive outdoor decking connects all the home's spaces and the areas for sitting, relaxing, and gathering. Lying suspended in the treetops on a cargo net bay, people can drink in the canopy.

Floating among the trees - Ascending the stone stairs and spiral staircase, you enter a secluded space suffused with light and leaves and open to the air. With a soundscape of bird calls, it's like being in a treehouse. Glimpses of the beach, jetty, and Pittwater village shift behind foliage. The kitchen, living room, bathroom, and two bedrooms are stacked along the outward-looking building. With no hallway, you’re in nature whenever you leave a room.

Sustainable - The ‘Meccano set’ design had a multiplier effect in reducing embodied energy, first by minimizing steel in favor of timber. Pre-fabricating components offsite reduced material deliveries and waste pickups. The simple construction also reduced trips by builders, architects, and project managers to Palm Beach, considered remote by Sydney standards. The house is built from low-maintenance materials with low embodied energy, primarily timber and corrugated iron. Careful orientation brings sunlight inside year round and sliding doors and louvers provide cross-ventilation. Bathrooms and irrigation systems use rainwater, and there's a Tesla car charger.

Hana Abdel