‘balmy palmy’ by CplusC architectural workshop
Firmly planted on a steep and rocky slope in Sydney’s Palm Beach Peninsula, de pompous ‘Blessed Palmy’ House by means of CplusC Architectural Workshop celebrates the joys of modesty and simple living. The practice was invited to build the home for a half-retired couple, their three teenage children and friends. After 20 years away from their Sydney home, the clients wanted to embrace the local scenery at their bushland site. They imagined a modest, compact house that would blend in with the surrounding trees and where they could recharge in the canopy of sunlight, foliage and birdsong.
With a tight budget, the proposed building system needed to be quick to assemble and repetitive to minimize visits from supervisors, requests for information (RFIs) to the architectural team and labor costs on site. The house also had to be easy to maintain for the visiting owners.
Initially it was a vacant lot about 25 miles from central Sydney, but the location presented its own challenges. To begin with, the lack of stable subsoil on a steep bushland slope was seen as a geotechnical landslide risk. The structure had to either be excavated into the rock or built on concrete piers drilled into the Hawkesbury sandstone layers. It must also share space with many mature trees, most notably an imposing Port Jackson municipality-protected fig tree, which stands on the rocky escarpment on the south side of the site.
image © Michael Lassman
a simple wooden structure that floats above steep land
‘In such a scenic spot, there is always the temptation to build something monumental to swallow the views, often requiring tree pruning, excavation, rock sawing and extensive retaining wall construction. In this case, the vision was to keep the house unassuming, unassuming and receptive to its surroundings – a place to get away and interact with the landscape, native wildlife, the sky and the ocean. Achieving this within the tight budget on the steep, rocky bushland site would require innovative construction methods to reduce complexity, construction time and the need for regular site visits,’ writes the team of CplusC Architectural Workshop.
That said, the architects proposed a simple wooden structure floating above the steep land. Oversized hardwood columns and beams (290x45cm) contrast with the thin, lightweight roof and post legs. Extensive outdoor patio connects all areas of the house and the different areas to sit, relax and gather. People can hang out in the treetops and drink in the canopy from a cargo net.
image © Murray Fredericks
Thanks to a ‘Meccano set’ design, ‘Balmy Palmy’ took less than a year to build. CplusC’s builders simply assembled all prefabricated components that were delivered directly to the site. This included joinery, doors, windows, structural members and panelling. In concrete terms, the construction features a partially prefabricated system with three-axis steel nodes that act as connectors. The wooden posts and beams fit into the nodes and are screwed down. A simple grid system makes the construction both simple and robust.
A simple, predictable way to build, the Meccano set approach comes with some risk. Since all components were prefabricated based on CplusC drawings, there was no site measurement to confirm dimensions during construction. The risk was that they would not fit together perfectly during assembly. ‘For CplusC it was a calculated risk because we trust our team. Responsible for design and construction; we were convinced that we could work with the required accuracy. In the end it all went exactly as planned,’ explains the practice.
image © Michael Lassman
“Our team worked closely with the plumber and electrician to enable near-invisibility of services, concealing pipes and cabling in the steel rectangular hollow sections (RHSs) of the structure. High on the slope, the house welcomes visitors who come up the slope with a view of the corrugated iron underside, undamaged by pipes and cables.’
In addition, the centerpiece of the entrance, a massive metal spiral staircase constructed in one piece, required a crane and all hands on deck to install. ‘The installation of the spiral staircase had to be done with great care as a large tree branch was located in the path of the installation. We hoisted it in and then screwed it around the tree branch using the spiral to our advantage. We used our 3D model of the tree to plan how we would do this without damaging the tree. In complex building challenges like this, it helps to be one team. Your architect and builder must think like each other. It was still a delicate operation, and let’s just say there were some tense moments when it dangled 35 meters high from a 100-ton crane,’ continues CPlusC.
image © Renata Dominik
eco-life in the canopy
Walking up the stone steps and spiral staircase of the ‘Balmy Palmy’ house, owners enter a secluded space that is infused with light and foliage and open to the air. With a soundscape of bird sounds it is like being in a tree house. Glimpses of the beach, jetty and the village of Pittwater shift behind the foliage. The kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms are stacked along the outward-facing building. With no hallway, it seems like you are in nature every time you leave a room.
Most of the entertaining, relaxing and gathering areas of the house are outside, open to the sky to give a peaceful holiday feeling. A cargo net weighing up to 900 kilograms extends the living space into the sky and provides a place for people to lounge and enjoy the view. Meanwhile, airy gridded mesh screens and webbing keep the cockatoos out and let light in, casting intricate shadow patterns that change throughout the day. The Pittwater coastal breeze plays through the living room thanks to large sliding doors and eye-catching louvers. Roller blinds can be closed for privacy.
Technically, everything from the lights, locks and ceiling fans to security can be controlled remotely on a smartphone via a FIBARO system. This allows the owners to easily manage the home from their primary residence – or wherever they travel. In addition, an automated irrigation system keeps the garden thriving.