This building occupies one of the most significant coastal sites in Australia. It is directly above the sand at North Bondi and continues a tradition of surf clubhouses on this patch dating back to the 1900’s. Its curving, organic forms are a man made attempt to compliment the natural eroded beach landscape.
Bondi Beach is unique in that it predominately faces south unlike most beaches along this coast that face east. That means it's generally protected by the predominant summer northeast wind, but when the southerly blows, it comes in straight and hard. These weather conditions are important to understand. They helped inform some of the sloping parapets on the building, providing protection from these winds, while the rounded corners hint at wind and water erosion which is the primary architect of the surrounding rocks and cliffs.
The simple concept of creating 'a shell washed up on the beach' is enhanced by cladding the building with mosaic tiles. They are in three shades: white, off white and a coffee (or wet sand colour). Some of the tiles have gloss on them, which makes the building sparkle at night. The tiles are imported from Spain and come in sheets about 300x300mm. They are fully vitrified to help stop water penetration. Indeed the engineering of the facade was one of the most important aspects of the entire job. In these conditions our mindset had to be that we were building a boat and that waterproofing and resistance to the elements was of paramount importance.
Internally the 'house on the beach' is built over 4 levels. Below ground is a basement level for storage. At ground level, change rooms, recreational space, office and more storage. On the mezzanine, a gym and training room and long open beach facing terrace. On the top floor, two big function rooms, which wrap around on open roof terrace, lined in light blue tiles and framed with a sweeping parapet. This parapet is perhaps the defining signature of the design and took months to get right.
Every corner, every detail, every angle has been carefully considered and tested against not only its individual purpose but its contribution to the overall composition. Each facade offers something different. The buildings reflective qualities mean you can gauge the weather by the hue of the tiles or how bright or dark the shadows fall around its curves.
Every window is different each requiring a new set of detailed drawings - you might ask why? - Well, it means that from everywhere you stand in the building, you are offered a different experience of what is effectively the same view. Mirrors on jambs reflect angles not immediately perceived, or wrap around glass thrusts you over the arching beach. Oversized cathedral scaled picture windows frame the ocean, then when all experiences had been exhausted the design team created projecting ear shaped windows that hover outside the line of the building providing the viewer with a more intimate experience of the beach.
I like to think this is the work of a dedicated and brave team of architects who together have given each other confidence in pursuing our common aim of achieving something magical. Our team put visions without restraint into the most public arena imaginable.
This building demands comment but my long-term belief is that it will become as much a part of the scene as Ben Buckler point. This building walks the balance between organic sculpture and practical space, between public face and private retreat, between making a statement and respecting its surrounds. Ultimately it is a house on the beach. Ideally it will stand for another century and beyond, providing a spiritual home to the greatest traditions of surf life saving and an architectural salute to the beach that inspired it.
Durbach, Block, Jaggers in association with Peter Colquhoun