Responsive Angled Planes – Latimer House by Tobias Partners

Words by Bronwyn Marshall
Architecture by Tobias Partners
Photography by Justin Alexander

Navigating an unconventionally shaped site, vertical and horizontal planes create a series of strong architectural frames of differing scales to direct views and sightlines outward of Latimer House. Tobias Partners carefully integrates simple architectural principles with a layering of landscaped elements to create a home that responds to the unique qualities of its site.

Sitting behind two richly defining Norfolk pines that line the home’s streetscape frontage, Latimer House emerges as a three-storey home from a densely landscaped garden setting in Bellevue Hill, in harbour side eastern Sydney. Tobias Partners responds to the area’s established and handsomely maintained sensibilities through a combined restraint and openness. Split over multiple levels, the home incorporates a number of dividing elements over each level to direct views outward and encourage a seamless flow internally.

Tobias Partners responds to the area’s established and handsomely maintained sensibilities through a combined restraint and openness.

As a welcoming residence to its young family, the brief was inspired by the want to create a series of spaces that reflected a maturity and acted as a sanctuary of sorts. In describing the intent, John Richards, project principal, says, “it is a place of retreat, and in that way, we tried to simplify the exteriors to the ‘essential’ as a means to frame the surrounding landscape. The family do a lot of entertaining of close friends and needed to accentuate the entertaining areas as warm and inviting spaces to gather. Our response was to cascade the floor plane down from the front to the rear, while maintaining a consistent ceiling plane. While some of the primary living spaces created as a result are expansive, the weaving of more intimate throughout ensures a balance of scale with each space responding to its intended use.”

Through a deliberate celebration of the thresholds between inside and out, the internal living and external garden spaces of the home are carefully woven together across its multiple levels. The integration of vegetation emphasises the home as a restorative place to recharge, creating a series of outdoor rooms that extend the habitable spaces beyond the built envelope. “Gardens are a very integral component in almost all of our projects, and our longstanding collaborative relationship with Myles [Baldwin] has been a huge part of many of those and is particularly evident at Latimer House,” John says. The densely layered vegetation becomes woven in with the interior palette of the home with a deliberate composition of apertures whilst softening the building’s ‘edges’ through the strategic positioning of feature garden elements and elevated planter boxes and roofs. The original heritage sandstone wall along the street frontage was retained and incorporated as a podium base to support a richly layered garden from which the strong architectural forms emerge.

“Through the creation of a clear structural framework, and the insertion of a rich, yet restrained palette of materiality our aim was to create a harmonious balance between solid, void, warmth and tactility.”

As essentially two simple extruded blocks, placed in a ‘stepped’ formation either side of a central axis, the formal response for Latimer House was developed in reaction to the unconventionally shaped site and its orientation. Describing the articulation of form, John says that “the shape of the site and its east-west orientation drove the original siting and ‘stepped’ formation of the plan and form allowing more of the building’s façade to address and interlock with the adjacent garden spaces and orientate towards the north. Through this deliberate stepping of the plan, some opportunistic vistas are opened up diagonally from deep within the interior which are in turn flooded with natural light. And the deliberate stepping of the building form serves to break down the building envelope externally, reducing its scale whilst further opening up opportunities to landscape the resulting voids.” This arrangement results in a simple composition of solid and void, architecture and landscape, harmoniously woven into one another in response to the specific functions of the spaces within.

Responding to the light and openness of the surrounding suburban setting, the external materiality comprises a deliberate composition of exposed concrete, rendered brick, and timber to create a calming and contemporary warmth and lightness. In addition, natural lighting was a careful consideration which, in part, initiated the stepping of the building plan and form to encourage an abundance of daylight and winter sunlight into the heart of the home. “We wanted a concise palette of materials arranged in simple composition, and through the creation of a clear structural framework and the insertion of a rich, yet restrained, palette of materiality, our aim was to create a harmonious balance between solid, void, warmth and tactility.”

A testament to the opportunities that can emerge from responding to a challenging site, Latimer House is a home that balances lightness and solidity, openness and enclosure with subtlety and finesse. With the interplay between landscape and architecture enlivening the building, the resulting home is a true sanctuary for its inhabitants.