Subtle & Monolithic – Henley Clay House by Benn and Penna Architects
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Taking inspiration from the original home’s material composition, Henley Clay House by Benn and Penna Architects sees a subtle, yet monolithic extension expand its framework to embrace its carefully considered landscape.
Extending out from the original sandstone base of the existing cottage, Henley Clay House sees an extension unfold to provide for its contemporary brief, while sensitively considering its history. Located in Sydney’s Lower North Shore, with the addition of a new kitchen, bedrooms and cohesive living area, all efforts funnel toward the connection to its landscape. Andrew Benn, founding director of Benn and Penna Architects, speaks to the process of a combined approach to both heritage restoration and extension works from within a lens of appropriation and context.
Starting from the house’s base, Andrew says, “the strategy of the project makes it inseparable from the site – the brick plinth is grown from the existing sandstone base, with split levels that respond directly to the landscape around it. The rooms ascend with the natural levels of the ground, in which the building walls grow from the same brick.” As a philosophy, the approach to materiality is drawn from this central idea of connection to site, and as a result embodies a sense of combined robustness and softness through texture. Andrew says, “the materiality is singular and monolithic, and formally responds to the sequence and function of spaces [throughout] a series of landscape inspired rooms that gently ascend through the home.”
Built by M&PG Projects, the monolithic feel of the masonry work is further amplified by the mortar being matched to the colour of the brickwork. Its deep reveals provide voids in the overall mass and allow for inviting portholes into the landscape surrounding. Andrew explains, “openings have been carefully arranged to puncture the buildings mass and wash its cave-like spaces with natural light,” creating an interesting play on texture, movement and time. He adds, “the desired light condition is precisely studied for each room, with respect to its location in the plan and orientation,” where, for example, “the main living room is located between the rear garden and courtyard and is sheltered by a skeleton-like frame that gives the rear elevation an almost ruinous like appearance in the garden.”
The approach to planning and the evolution of the home’s floor plan was also born from a considered and measured process. Andrew says, “rather than squeezing the rooms into a preconceived mass that is typically the approach of most suburban extensions, the building mass is ‘clustered’, so the walls surrounding each room reflects its true and absolute necessary geometry and size.” Along with maximising it site, and considering every aspect, the engagement with its site, both near and beyond, was key. “The project takes advantage of views to the harbour through strategically placed openings as one ascends through the house,” where, Andrew explains, “the highest room – the master bedroom – is the hawk’s nest of the house, with prominent views over Sydney Harbour framed within a deep-set telescopic window.”
From a place of respect for the home’s unique history, and a curated vision of its future, Henley Clay House sees Benn and Penna Architects bring a refined celebration of craft together with a less conventional approach. Andrew says, “with all of our projects, they are a process of drawing over and over again based on observation of the way the project unfolds versus our own intentions, so naturally there are always surprises and unexpected elements along the way.” The resulting home is one grounded on reflection and close study, and an acute reaction to those interpretations sees the unique personality of both its owners (past and present) come together in its new framework.