My association with this project must be confessed. I grew up in Bondi and have been a member of the surf club most of my life. There is no place on earth like this beach and my family has lived here for 5 generations.
Around 10 years ago the president of North Bondi Surf Club asked me to come up with some new concepts for a clubhouse. The existing building at the time was way past its used by date and the club was contemplating either renovating or starting a fresh. A previous design had been approved but not fully funded and time was running out.
As a member and architect I knew I was in a particularly delicate position. It was potentially the commission of a lifetime but a building of such importance and of such public significance meant that this was going to require a team effort. The make up of that team would mean either the success or failure of the project. But now there was a select band of believers that supported our vision to attempt something extraordinary. But how to create something amazing?
Initially I suggested we hold an international design competition for such an important site. But there was no time for that. Instead I was told I had 24 hours to come up with a short list of 4 architects who I'd be happy working with. A design dream team I thought. My first choice was Neil Durbach, who I not only highly respected as an architect but new his sensitivity and passion for the coast could lift the vision to another level. I called Neil for a coffee and outlined the situation. I'm not sure at the time if Neil quite understood what was involved, or if he really thought it would ever happen. But on a hand shake we agreed to work in association and embark on this adventure, where it would take us, what form it would take, how many hours and years of our lives it would consume was yet to be fully appreciated. All I knew was that with Neil and his office involved which included Camilla Block, Dave Jaggers and Stefan Heim we now stood a pretty good chance of creating a design that would inspire if not dazzle and in turn build momentum for funding and the torturous approval process that lay ahead.
There were 5 things that had to frame the design:
1. This building first and foremost must work as a clubhouse.
2. It had to be of its place and sit perfectly alongside the curves and headlands of Bondi.
3. It had to be future proof and flexible and able to adapt to changing needs of the club.
4. It must set a new standard in surf club design and raise the level of architecture in Bondi.
5. It must have an X-factor and create its own style.
Once the design team was in place, fund raising was now paramount. A highly organised band of volunteer fund raisers lead by club member Ben Griffiths knocked on every door at the big and little end of town, exhausted every lead and contact begged, pleaded, bullied and demanded attention for this project. All this through the height of the GFC as well as dealing with skeptical members who constantly questioned not only the viability of the project but the reasons behind going to so much effort. In many minds this was just a clubhouse why go to so much trouble.
Despite these setbacks of which there were many, the design team pressed on while the funds team kept walking through brick walls.
We went through many variations of numerous design concepts. Dozens and dozens of models were made testing every conceivable sculptural form. Endless presentations were made not only to members but also to every community group and level of government. Such a building on such a site was always going to draw a lot of interest and attention. Managing expectations became a full time job. It must be said that eventually once people saw our vision developing the majority of members started to understand something significant was taking shape and slowly started to come on board.
Once building started the design continued to be honed. Documentation was often only a step a head of construction. The builders had agreed to finish the building in one year, and thus the beach would be without a clubhouse for only one summer. It was an impossible schedule. The budget was set at 6 million dollars it was an impossible price.
Both were achieved.
I still can't believe the building is finished. I feel as though I'm still just looking at a life size model of the project and that we need to still complete it somehow. But we are heading into our first summer in the new building and I won't be able to relax until the first water bomb is thrown off the roof terrace onto one of the old guys 'who never thought they'd live to see the day.'
One of the most satisfying things I believe is that for the first time, (possibly ever in the history of architecture), has high-end architecture been inspired by 'surfers'. Usually this is the domain of the arts, the church, the crown or the corporate world. Here for the first time we have a building largely funded by mums and dads who invested in a vision most did not understand, trusting in architects who were driven by a clear and unrelenting ambition to humbly attempt to match the timeless beauty of Bondi.