Latitude & Longitude House
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Latitude & Longitude House

Balagna Architect
Prue Ruscoe

After drawing house plans for friendas in Sydney his base in Washington DC, fate led argentinean architect Diego Balagna to shift continents and buid it.

The events that led Argentinean architect Diego Balagna to first design and then immigrate to Australia and build this house reads like fiction, with sub-plots and twists and a fitting finale: an exceptional family home.The house, on the well-heeled slops of Sydney's waterside Vaucluse, had been bought more than a decade earlier by an Australian/American couple.The simple , circa 1930 white-painted brick box was solid, but subsequent additions had robbed the building of charm or logic. What did it have was location - and a substancial backyard.

The challange the house presented was principally one of poor circulation: a series of too-small rooms and crudely built additions with little connectivity and a lot wasted space. The first step was to remove all the addtions. The original front three rooms were reconfigured into a more unified space by reversing the positionof the walls and doors: where there had been French doors connecting a series of independent rooms, Balagna converted the door openings into solid wall and demolished the walls at either side.The wall divisions retai a feeling of intimacy in the formal living and dining spaces, while the open sides create vistas though to rooms beyond and extend the sense of space.

Connecting the suite of rooms is a long single wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that was inspired by a much-loved room in the couples' Roman palazzo apartment. "books add character and warmth, removing the formality," says Balagna.

The remaining walls were stripped of extraneous detail, with light switches relegated to side panels, then painted white to create an uninterrupted gallery for the art. New timber floors are iron bark, an Australia hardwood chosen for its colour and resilience.

Demolishing the rear of the bulding made way for an open plan kitchen, informal dining and television area, with a small study at one end. The  room is washed with light from walls of glass overlooking the back garden. The size of the garden had been catalyst in buying the block , its full potential hidden beneath a ramshackle arrangement of garages and brick paving. Now a sweeping lawn, an in-ground swimming pool and a neat timber-clad cabana at the boundary create an open platform from where the simple monolith nature of the house an be fully appreciated.

Bathed in north-easterly light, horizontal shadow lines add texture to the nature oiled merbau-clad exterior, giving monochrome uniformity to the architecture. The timber is sectioned into fins, each tapered with a drip edge to ensure water runs off the building while protecting the vertical surfaces from UV damage.

Working on site allowed the design to be tweaked - a window lowered to hide a neighbour's window, the fireplace raised to leave a sense of intimacy in the living space while retaining the vista through, the consideration of privacy and oppenness from every angle and every level, and maximising the use of natural light.Inside and outside, it was about connecting to or creating views.

Resolving the harmony between the old building and the new was not easy."Dont compete with the old house", says the architect."You need to consider the material and how the sections meet, articulating the junctions so that the shift between them is almost imperceptible." this harmony is particularly evident at the front of the house, where a new freestanding timber facade 'hugs' but does not toich the old brick building and roof. Original French doors were retained, repainted and given new hardware. Behind the timber facade an upper-level calcony was added, with original windows on the first floor converted to French doors too allow the bedrroms access to the new decking.

The internal staircase was relocated into the central section that connects the old and new building, with a walk-in pantry tucked behind. On the first floor, the junction  between ond and new is poetically defined by an open-air glazed courtyard of vegetal-covered mounds resembling a fantastical scene from Dr Seuss. The work of maverick Sydney-based landscape designer Vladmir Sitta, internal courtyards on both levels are a critical element of the design, adding complexity and layers of interrest to the architecture - particularly at night when they are illuminated, creating further intensity.

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