A Luminous Brick Jewel - The House in Darlinghurst by Tribe Studio
Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia
Wandering down a tiny lane in inner-city Darlinghurst at dusk, one might be surprised to find a section atop a traditional red-brick building softly glowing like a lantern in the evening. Nestled among Victorian and Georgian terraces, apartment buildings and commercial property at the very end of the lane, this is the Tribe Studio Architects’ House in Darlinghurst project.
Tribe Studio liken the project to the fabled Tardis from iconic television series Dr Who – like the Tardis, the House in Darlinghurst is much more than it first appears and fits an incredible amount of functionality within the constrained 50 square meter footprint.
The building began life as an electricity substation before it was converted into a two-storey office building, until years later it was purchased by Tribe Studio’s clients. This industrial past informed the new design, taking its cue from the dominant material of the original building and straddling the line between the industrial and the domestic. “The way we have redesigned this building celebrates the ‘bricky’-ness of the building and recalls its past as an electrical substation”, says Tribe Studio founding principal Hannah Tribe.
The House in Darlinghurst by Tribe Studio is much more than it first appears and fits an incredible amount of functionality within the constrained 50 square meter footprint.
The predominance of red brick gives the House in Darlinghurst a comforting familiarity that is disrupted only by a crown of glass bricks. Extruding the brick form upwards with glass brick creates an effect that is all the more unsettling by the very fact that is recognisably a continuation of the brick materiality. Semi-translucent and reflective in the daylight or glowing in the darkness, it is decidedly something ‘other’ that has been inserted into this most familiar of materials urban streetscapes.
“We relished the opportunity to explore the modularity, solidity and methods of translucency that were possible with these materials, and this form”, Hannah reflects. “The result is a careful exploration of the nature of brickwork – a play between the beautiful old bricks, the exquisite new glass bricks from Venice, and a language of brick screens over the new windows”.
“The way we have redesigned this building celebrates the ‘bricky’-ness of the building and recalls its past as an electrical substation”.
The glass bricks both create and mediate a connection between inside and out that is more balanced than the relationship between most architecture and interiors, which tends to focus more on the contribution of the outside to the inside. As darkness falls, light from inside glows through the glass bricks, softly illuminating the public domain and creating a striking visual contribution to the streetscape.
Tribe Studio Architects’ brief was to transform the existing building, described as a “beautiful little brick jewel” that had undergone an “underwhelming” conversion, into a three-bedroom home with garage, roof terrace and pool. Internally, the volume is sliced by a stair structure from ground to roof, letting light spill down through glass bricks and a perforated ‘veil’ of stair structure. A series of dramatic spaces is created for the occupants within the miniscule 50 square meter footprint.
“The challenge was to connect all levels while at the same time retaining the integrity of different spaces, and allowing the maximum light and airflow to penetrate the building”, explains Hannah. The central stair stretching from top to bottom recalls the full height of the original volume, while connecting internal spaces and the outdoors, with the upper stairs are constructed from a metal mesh that allows light to perforate the structure.
This motif of allowing light to punctuate a solid form is continued in the brick screens that protect the windows, creating a structured interplay of light and materiality. Atop the building, the roof terrace is walled by the ethereally-glowing glass bricks, roofed overhead by the overhanging boughs of a mature eucalyptus. The red brickwork screens are constructed from the site’s original bricks, retaining the integrity of the building’s heritage. Only at the top, are the glass bricks a new material, introducing a slightly uncanny new interpretation on the traditional material.
Delighting in the opportunity to create such a compelling yet unexpected effect in a single move, Tribe Studio demonstrate the power of responding to material and context with an unwavering clarity of intention.