The Austinmer Beach House. A highly sustainable agenda delivers delight rather than enforced, regulation-driven necessity. Tuned for optimum performance and bristling with energy saving features, the project utilises Viridian’s brilliant double-glazing to contribute an abiding sense of place.
he emerging Sydney architect Alex Symes could claim to have embraced the dark side in his latest role as facade engineer. Quickly dispelling such ideas, the creator of the Austinmer Beach House on the NSW south-coast reveals a thoroughly illuminated mind. His ability to fuse the freehand of architecture with complex mathematical modelling results in a house sparkling with light and fully connected to its environment. Legible and adaptable, the house is a new take on the beloved beach shack. Symes’ version is a world away from the ground-hogging box packed onto site without regard to place. Sixty-five kilometres south of Sydney, the onetime fishing and coal-mining township of Austinmer is being re-discovered for its extraordinary beauty. Symes’ cliff top house, at the base of the towering Illawarra Escarpment, is one of the few that appears so in tune with its setting. “Many architects believe they need to find every solution, but it’s really an integrated, crossdisciplinary challenge,” observes Symes whose design brings into alignment such artful form, precise engineering and skilful construction. On three levels with underground parking and accommodation it is the ground plane and upper level with a J-curve plan that helps generate a cinematic relationship with the ocean. Reinforcing the client’s hopes and ambitions, Symes says he encouraged a bold environmental strategy. The result is a model of flexibility open and permeable with a series of sliding edges on the ground floor made possible with retractable glass walls. The upper floor is a tour de force of detailing animated by gill-like windows that provide valuable shade and scoop ocean views. Following the sound dictum of not being everything to everyone, Symes employed a project engineer rather than ‘do it all’ himself. “You want to avoid a tug-of-war,” he argues. “The best results occur when we all work together.” He says the two disciplines often exist as parallel strands rather than entwine as one. His current role at Arup has Symes immersed in the technical complexities of tower façade systems and energy modelling. While these complexities and dizzy heights appear a world away from his