Cliff Top House
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Cliff Top House

Walter & Cohen
of this Sydney house discovered the solitude of the desert, the stark open spaces, the endless skies and the peaceful silence. So when designing and building their cliff top home, they wanted to capture the love of their adopted home country while honouring their roots in South Africa and the Middle East.
Building was nothing less than a challenge, since the site is precipitous and exposed, with an 8O-metre drop to the Pacific Ocean. Their eastern neighbour, as a matter of fact, is New Zealand. The house is exposed to huge winds, corrosive salt and sand. That's why all the materials used during the building process were designed for the marine environment. The owners had lived in a small 1950s brick cottage on the site for five years before deciding
to rebuild. This helped them decide the orientation.
Work began in January 2000 with the London-based architects Walters a Cohen. The first contact was by email and letters, in which the own described their interests, passions, ideas and influences. Architect Cindy Walters was born in Australia and had studied architecture in South Africa, so she had a good sense of their wishes and of what they wanted to achieve.
Walters visited Sydney twice, once at the outset and again when the drawings were completed to select the project architect and building tea. Since there was no on-site architect in the design phase, the owners did aII of the product research themselves, looking for a simple, minimalist and elegant style. For the construction work, the award-winning builder John Fielding of Bellevarde Constructions was selected.
How Turner of Sydney architects Collins and Turner was appointed pr0j6 architect, having worked with Walters when they were both associates, Norman Foster's London office. Turner advised the London architects during the planning stage and once the demolition began, became totally dedicated to the project. The team was challenged by the location and the difficult seaside conditions. Even though the site is essentially flat on a sandstone base, it's no easy task building a house a metre away from the cliff edge. All products had to withstand harsh conditions and the team treated the house as if it were in an extreme environment - like an oil rig.
The result is a beautiful villa in a unique location. The split-level structure was built as two wings, focused around a central spine. Each wing was grounded in a rendered masonry structure, transforming to a lightweight steel and glass pavilion at the top. Inside, following minimalist principles, polished concrete was used on the floor while the large, double-height glass frontages were installed to allow for marvellous views and also connect the house to the outdoors and let it receive plenty of light while blurring the boundaries between inside and outside. This also served to make the house seem bigger than it is.
Views over the Pacific Ocean are good for moonlit nights and beautiful sunrises, but there are also fantastic views south towards Bondi, north-east towards Sydney Heads, and to the west for sunsets. Due to its cliff top location, the site is extremely windy, but the owners say staying in the .house during wild weather can be exhilarating.
While the main bedrooms were situated on the ground floor cliff-edge level, the living areas and pool were located upstairs on the top floor, mainly to capture the sun but also to maximise on the dramatic views. The kitchen (accessible via a lift from the garage) was built separately from the living/dining area which leads out to a sheltered verandah, great for dining and entertaining outside (on less windy days). From the office, which also runs off the living area, there are sensational views, especially when the whales are migrating, say the owners. The workshop, where the owner does woodwork, also has ocean views. An impressive space is the almost double-height guest bedroom, with expansive views towards Bondi Beach. Ideal for visiting family and friends, it could also become yoga or exercise room. To create clean, minimalist bathrooms, large slabs of Sydney bluestone were used to line the walls of the showers and as slabs under the basins and baths.
The dominating colour is pure white, which underlines the clean, elegant and minimalist style of the house. The house is being slowly decorated with pieces of art and organic materials; there is no rush to fill the space with furniture and artefacts. Particularly eye-catching are two large pieces by Kate Briscoe who uses fine river sand mixed with pigments to create her responses to the physicality of the Australian landscape. In the main bedroom hang paintings by Ray James Tjangala, one of the founding members of the Papunya Tula Artists, the best known of the contemporary indigenous art movements. Since its completion in 2003, the owners have had more time in the house to enjoy their interests in woodworking, interior design and basketry.

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