The Next Chapter – Trilogy House by Peter Stutchbury Architecture
Along a steep slope on a compact subdivided lot in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Trilogy House squeezes between trees and neighbours to capture views of the bay and its surroundings. It is a modest house for its context, but one with a significant architectural lineage. Peter Stutchbury Architecture sensitively negotiates geography, building and history to add the next cascade down the slope – and the next chapter to the trilogy story.
It is a daunting task to inherit a project from three of Australia’s most renowned architects – Peter Muller, Wendy Lewin and Glenn Murcutt – and equally daunting, and rare, to work on a site overlooking the expansive Pittwater drowned-valley-estuary, sheltered by ancient gums, only 40 kilometres north of the Sydney CBD. Combine these pre-existing conditions – natural and built – and the project becomes an increasingly precarious negotiation between retention and construction, building and land, history and future. A serious responsibility, and one not taken lightly by Peter Stutchbury Architecture. As succinctly put by Belinda Koopman, a Director at Peter Stutchbury Architecture and the project architect, “a commitment was made to bring Peter Muller’s design to a new place.” The result is a richly layered project – or ‘architectural stratum’ – and a commentary on collaboration, working together yet apart, at different times and in different contexts. Peter Stutchbury Architecture’s latest addition to this storied house is sensitively responsive with the clear intention of adding another century of life to an already-celebrated 60-year-old home.
The original house was designed by Peter Muller in 1961 and added to by Lewin and Murcutt in 1995. Park House, the original title by Muller, was a humble dwelling defined by eight blockwork pillars and two blockwork columns, sweeping flat roofs and a single shared bathroom. It was a product of Muller’s prairie obsessions – Frank Lloyd Wright’s early ‘organic architecture’ manifesto on which Fallingwater was designed – where the architecture sank, swept and extended with the landscape and topography. Muller even detailed holes in the subfloor slab for existing trees to prod through the terrace. In 1995, Lewin and Murcutt positioned a carport at the top of the site, carefully extended the second floor – the entry level due to the slope – to include a second bedroom and a courtyard with stairs to the street and also added a boat shed at the bottom by the water’s edge. They maintained the majority of Park House whilst increasing the interior floor area from 119 square metres to 140.
Peter Stutchbury Architecture was approached by the clients upon recommendation from a retiring Peter Muller and asked to design a much larger house. After reviewing the original home and its significant ancestry, Peter Stutchbury Architecture proposed to merely add 11 square metres of internal floor area and to build intentionally and as required. Belinda explains, “our clients initially considered the house unsuitable, and they intended to demolish the building. Following a period living in the house and conversations with Peter Stutchbury Architecture, a sustainable approach to restore the original house was initiated.” As a result, Peter Stutchbury Architecture maintained much of the plan – Muller’s blockwork pillars, Murcutt and Lewin’s bedroom, courtyard and stairs – whilst significantly upgrading the internal amenity. They observed the previous architects’ shared approach to architecture being secondary to landscape – the belief that a building is its own addition to an ever-present and pre-existing logic, geography and history. In doing so, they transformed, updated and completely reimagined the home whilst also restoring and retaining it.
The private quarters – the entry, two bedrooms, a shared bathroom, mezzanines, courtyard and study – are located just before the top of the slope. The carport and driveway are maintained and amended, positioned at the apex, as per Murcutt and Lewin’s addition. The bedrooms and study are hinged by an entry forecourt with the beginnings of a staircase that frames a view toward the bay and filters guests directly down to the water. In the lower portion, the kitchen, a sitting room and laundry sit below the bedroom and study with the above floor structure visible. These ‘service’ rooms emerge into the open hearth of the home and Peter Stutchbury Architecture’s addition – a triumphant double-height void and “a spatial vessel to capture sky and water views, reflected light and cooling breeze.” The living and dining room is supported by new blockwork piers – as laid out 60 years ago – and appears large and expansive, though not excessive, with the ceiling aligning to the existing level of the bedroom above. Inventive full-height fluted glass doors, divided horizontally into two, fill the gaps between the piers and act as a filter for light and privacy. There is careful consideration of new hardwearing surfaces that complement both the landscape and the original home.
In the existing portion, the red ironbark timber used – in variations – for joinery, flooring and wall panelling darkens and warms the intimate spaces, whilst the expansive northern room strategically applies semi-dull brass and copper to subtly reflect the light and landscape. Even material offcuts are repurposed in numerous forms – timber for homewares, metalwork for handles, copper for shelving and so on – and unsalvageable construction waste was sent to Kimbriki for recycling.
The totality of the house is simple – a series of rooms cascading down a slope, each with their own use, unified by the roof and the bay. Yet beneath this lies an endless discovery of fine detailing and expert construction, controlled-yet-vast connections to land and a place full of life. In the end, it is hard to read which architect is responsible for which moment, and in fact observing the drawings only gives some hints. Yet this is part of the joy. The lack of a singular architectural gesture and the approach to insert, upkeep and uplift creates a richer home, built slowly over time. This additive process has allowed the house to grow and change as lived in – a patient approach to building in lieu of contemporary practice, where financial investment often predetermines the number and size of rooms. It is incredibly rare to observe a project where numerous different clients’ patronage and architects’ sensitivities align over an extended period. In a parallel universe, not so different from ours, it would not be hard to imagine an arid neoclassical McMansion made of concrete and stucco dominating the area of the site.
Accepting the challenge to ‘work with’ requires more care, dedication and sensitivity. It forces a reduction of ego and results in a more everlasting architecture that accepts the fact things will change. This is a challenge embraced by Peter Stutchbury Architecture, working with the existing framework to transform Park House, maintaining its intangible character whilst cleverly adapting and inserting new moments and connections to landscape and building. In the coming century, the house will change again, but it is hopeful that the next line of architects and clients provide a similar duty of care offered here by Peter Stutchbury Architecture in Trilogy House.