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durbach block “new frontiers” as seen in issue 62

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durbach block “new frontiers” as seen in issue 62

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									                                                                                           NEW FRONTIERS

                              Projecting out from a Sydney clifftop, Durbach Block’s Holman House offers
                                          breathtaking views of new architectural horizons while affording
                                                       generous perspectives on past migrant influences.

                                                   Review Leon van Schaik Photography Brett Boardman, Anthony Browell, Chris Cole




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                                                durbach block “new frontiers” as seen in issue 62
                                                                                         Please note that this document cannot be reproduced without permission from the publisher
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                                                                                                                                         “THE IRONY OF all theorising is its propensity to generate, not an understanding,
                                                                                                                                         but a not-yet-understood.”
                                                                                                                                                          Oakshott cited by Colin Burrow, London Review of Books, Nov. 6, 2003, p.22


                                                                                                                                         My intention to review this house as it relates to my work on communities of
                                                                                                                                         practice in architecture began with my finding this salutary statement in my
                                                                                                                                         notes. Before I sat down to write, Neil Durbach sent me another quotation from
                                                                                                                                         the LRB: “… the line of beauty (that) varying still more, being composed of two
                                                                                                                                         curves contrasted, becomes still more ornamental and pleasing, insomuch that
                                                                                                                                         the hand takes a lively movement in making it with pen or pencil”. (Hogarth cited
                                                                                                                                         by Thomas Jones, London Review of Books, May 6, 2004, p.25). Why are we
                                                                                                                                         both, I thought, casting about for a context in which to embed a discussion of this
                                                                                                                                         stunningly beautiful house? Surely it can stand alone, buoyed up on its merits?
                                                                                                                                            The house is situated in the improbable Sydney suburb of Dover Heights, a
                                                                                                                                         standard subdivision of quarter-acre plots combed up to the edge of a sudden
                                                                                                                                         cliff, with houses set facing each other across roads that run at right angles to the
                                                                                                                                         cliff. A house at the end of such a street has been demolished and a curved beam
                                                                                                                                         of space has been canted out above the cliff face creating three distinct zones
                                                                                                                                         of engagement with the ocean, while the service rooms of the house form an
                                                                                                                                         anchorage along the former side boundary of the site. The zones of space created
                                                                                                                                         begin with the main living-dining-cooking space, a room held by flowing arcs that
                                                                                                                                         link an entrance from the road front into the curved beam of space that projects
                                                                                                                                         two horns of floor and view out into the air, and then curl back to afford access to
                                                                                                                                         a bedroom wing that is aligned along the cliff face. This living room is a wonderful
                                                                                                                                         space that, despite the acrobatics of structure and the evident projection into
                                                                                                                                         the air over the sea below, holds you gently in its arms without a hint of vertigo.
                                                                                                                                         The next zone, with an egg-shaped plan, is an external court between the curved
                                                                                                                                         beam and the bedroom wing. Looking from inside, with the glass wall slid away,
                                                                                                                                         a curve of crazy paving slate, picking up the grey-blue tones of the sea beyond,
                                                                                                                                         cuts into the perceived space like a stepping stone. Bagged walls elevated from
                                                                                                                                         the egg plan close around the space. Leaving only the top of the egg open, these
                                                                                                                                         walls hold you securely, again ‘in their arms’ while the slate, sea, horizon and
                                                                                                                                         sky present to you in a perfect abstraction. There is a complete absence of any
                                                                                                                                         view of the land, and you float. This is a space so powerful that I would now feel
                                                                                                                                         diminished, had I not had the privilege to experience it. The third zone is on the
                                                                                                                                    02   floor below. Another curved glass wall slides away, and wide arcs of wall softly >>



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                              durbach block “new frontiers” as seen in issue 62
                                        Please note that this document cannot be reproduced without permission from the publisher
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                   durbach block “new frontiers” as seen in issue 62
                             Please note that this document cannot be reproduced without permission from the publisher
                                                                                                                                               01 A curved beam of space projecting
                                                                                                                                               two horns of floor out into the air
                                                                                                                                               02 View to dining room and entrance,
                                                                                                                                               with egg-shaped external court, left
                                                                                                                                               03 View from entrance to dining room
                                                                                                                                               04 Family room
                                                                                                                                               05 View to south
                                                                                                                                               06 Dining and living room
                                                                                                                                               07 View to family room
                                                                                                                                        07     08 View to north


        >> define a space that sits under the curved beam’s flat soffit, and this space           of Elizabeth Bay House, of the Harbour Bridge, and the platform and sails of the
        faces the sea frontally, across a pre-existing concrete block balustrade. Being in        Opera House are easy references, but not trivial ones. These are mediated through
        this space is like the experience of listening to the sea in a shell: it amplifies what   the international canon by an open quoting of the Casa Malaparte, Capri, in the
        you see and hear, and presses you back to its centre.                                     stone base of the house and in the pool-cum-staircase ramp. In this house the
          Much of this is discernible from the plans or sections, and those comfortable           drama of the New World asserts itself against the stark denials of the surveyor’s
        with reading such representations will begin to imagine the power of what has             initial subdivision, one that must have been intended to normalise Sydney
        been accomplished here. There is a disarming effortlessness about what you                into a suburb familiar to Birmingham. It may seem curious to cite such public
        experience that is the clue to something that the plans may not reveal. With this         monuments in relation to this house, but the spatial inventions of this house cry
        house Durbach Block have reached a new level of architectural mastery. Where              out for a public manifestation.
        we have been able to admire their accomplishments in roof-top apartments and                 It is here that I must return to my starting point: what hope does this new mastery
        houses that coil around steep sites, the simplicity that they have striven for at         of Durbach Block’s have of the sustained attention that would incorporate it into
        Commonwealth Place here takes on the inevitability and rightness of procedures            the public imaginary of Sydney? Let’s face it, such moments of migrant glory have
        that surpass the intellectual and the clever, and become potentially canonical.           occurred before in Australia’s most conservative city. Think of the late Sydney-based
          Where does this situation come from? Durbach Block established their initial            architect, Hugh Buhrich – shattering poetic invention discovered anew by every third
        mastery in a school that domesticated Corbusier, a school that includes Eaton,            generation, celebrated and then shelved, because there is no tradition to assimilate
        Bierman and Uitenbogaart, names to conjure with for those interested in the               it to. Is Sydney condemned to have a beachcomber mentality about architecture,
        provinces of great architecture, but names that immediately signal Durbach Block’s        occasionally finding some glittering object, and accumulating it on shelves as bric-a-
        migrant condition in Sydney. There are signs here of that mastering process, the          brac? Are we bereft of theoretical frameworks that would engage such extraordinary
        crazy paving slate, the softly facetted arcs of walls made from bagged bricks, the        works with one of the two or three hard-won positions that characterise vibrant
        etiolated structural columns and subtly moulded wall endings. These are now dim           communities of practice? This is why we – architect and critic – seek out quotations
        resonances, but they are there. What then of a mastery that takes Sydney as its           that link this work into lines of thought, and challenge the notion that there was one
        bedrock? Here the heroic engagement with site manifested in the internal ellipses         primitive hut, and it was Harry Seidler’s for Rose. m




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                                                                                                  durbach block “new frontiers” as seen in issue 62
                                                                                                                                              Please note that this document cannot be reproduced without permission from the publisher

								
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