Stanisic: Live/Work 2000-2010
Occupying a large irregularly shaped site, with two existing substantial developments on its northeast and southwest corners, 222 is one of Stanisic Associates’ first large scale projects that explores mixed-use typology. A central location in Alexandria, with frontages to Botany Road, McEvoy Street and Wyndham Street, and to Retreat Street at the rear, necessitated an architectural response that worked ‘in the round’ to promote public connection and amenity. 222 reconciles the contextual differences between the three Hudson apartment buildings on the block and the adjacent smaller scale historical fabric of hotels, terrace houses, and the temple of the Yiu Ming Chinese precinct, whilst also serving as a gateway project at the intersection of Botany Road and McEvoy Street. It forms part of the Green Square Structural Masterplan, with an emphasis on ‘architectural quality’ and ‘enhanced environmentally responsive residential amenity’.
The design parti comprised a fragmented block of edge buildings, which define a multi-level central courtyard with through-site public access. These buildings – varying in height from nine storeys at the Botany Road and McEvoy Street corner to four storeys along Retreat Street, adjacent to the Yiu Ming Temple – provide a measured scalar response to context, whilst establishing a highly robust architectural character. Green rendered concrete and linear expressive forms give way to an unfinished precast concrete: the elevations are a layered demonstration of concrete’s expressiveness, contrasting with double-height sliding aluminium plantation shutters. For the glazed access galleries and lift lobbies, the architects introduced slim panes of green, translucent and clear glazing, held between expressed mullions.
As with all Stanisic Associates projects, the detailing and articulation of elevations are intrinsically tied to the contextual and environmental conditions of each frontage’s orientation, but as there are eight differing elevations, the result is highly dynamic and appropriate. The distinctive structured character of the brise soleil – gridded formations of apartments with deep balconies on the northern elevation – contrasts with the east and west elevations facing Botany Road and Wyndham Street, which are somewhat more plastic. The apartments press forward and are veiled by the plantation shutters, whilst the patterned glazing of lift lobbies interrupts that ordering and, on the McEvoy Street elevation, rise up and above the top-level apartments. Bookending the elevations, the simpler planar surfaces of the corner points indicate a shift in orientation.
122 apartments, of between one to three bedrooms, and of one or two storeys, accommodate a variety of demographics and lifestyles, whilst 2000 square metres of retail space is placed at ground level along Botany Road and McEvoy Street. Whilst not all apartments have northern orientation due to the site restrictions, they receive sunlight at some time during the day, and environmental responsiveness is achieved with balconies or courtyards attached to living areas.
Continuing Frank Stanisic’s interest in modernism, and particular those modernists with a strong social and urban agenda, references can be detected to the Brutalist movement of the 1960s and 70s, and in particular to Le Corbusier’s early Brutalist explorations of the late 1950s and 60s, such as the expressive concrete buildings at Chandigarh, 1951-64, and at Cambridge, USA, 1961-64, and the Monastery of La Tourette, 1953-57. As with these Corbusian examples, and in its juxtaposition of rhythms and sequences of glazing, openings, and structure, 222 possesses a certain musicality: it is perhaps less of an example of Stanisic’s ‘Eco Minimalism’ than one of ‘Eco Brutalism’.
An early collective housing project completed by Stanisic Associates, Atlas clearly reflects the perimeter courtyard typology that formed part of the research for the Green Square Master Plan, a competition for an urban renewal project of 275 hectares in the South Sydney area won by Frank Stanisic (in association with Hassell) in 1998. During this formative period, the office explored housing typologies for Sydney that would be environmentally responsive and well ventilated, and that would also address the difficult questions of urban context and appropriate streetscapes for these industrial brown-fill sites. At that time very few, if any, local models existed, so Stanisic looked abroad for precedent. Between 1983 and 1997, he had travelled to Europe and, most significantly, to Germany, where he studied the urban housing developments of the IBA – Internationale Bauaustellung Berlin 1987 – an international building exhibition initiated by the West Berlin Parliament for the much needed reconstruction of Berlin. The IBA’s predominant type, a perimeter building block enclosing a central courtyard, was a critical example for Stanisic.
Located on a generous site in Alexandria, adjacent to Green Square and opposite Alexandria Park, Atlas is bounded on three sides by offices and warehouses, and Stanisic’s response was to ‘reinstate the street’ using a perimeter edge development. The four individual blocks were then detailed to respond to the immediate context and climatic condition of each orientation. Unlike the IBA examples, Stanisic breaks the continuity of the edge, thus establishing visual and environmental permeability between the building forms, the central green courtyard and the street. The building blocks of four and five storeys contain 121 apartments of one, two and three bedrooms, in a mix of double- and single-storey dwellings, with car park and storage on a basement level that runs below the courtyard. All apartments have double orientation, and where possible have north-facing living and balcony spaces. Access and circulation, dependent upon on the block’s orientation, is through a series of open and closed circulation galleries, and detached lift cores, whilst for the street-facing lower level apartments, access is directly from the street via stairs. Sydney’s SEPP 65 planning and aesthetic regulations state that a courtyard width must be no less that the height of buildings: at 30 metres wide, the courtyard at Atlas – a rich varied landscape of raised garden beds, deciduous trees, grassed areas and seating – is more than twice that recommendation.
The north-facing elevation, on Power Avenue, establishes a strong visual edge to the park: a four storey building, with two arrangements of double-storey terrace apartments, has a rhythm of blade walls, balconies and glazing that resonates with the nearby Victorian terraces. Bookending this elevation, the corners articulate the change of direction and a new climatic orientation. Corner balconies are introduced, whilst white-rendered masonry slabs and columns frame exposed face-brick surfaces. Typical of the practice’s earlier projects, the architectural language is more pronounced, with changes in program creating articulated expression on the exterior. The roof is unusually expressive, with a saw-tooth profile that denotes the site’s industrial history, and supplies an angled surface upon which solar panels have been installed. Sliding double-height aluminium plantation shutters protect these east- and west-facing blocks from the sun and, when read alongside the expressive roof profile, establish a tectonic language that reconciles their domestic program with the adjacent industrial warehouses.
Sydney’s architecture is typically characterised by buildings set in sundrenched waterside locations, with minimal white forms aimed at the view and at ‘domesticating’ the view. The view dominates, and the architecture doesn’t need do very much other than provide an inhabitable frame. So when there is no view, the site is ‘brownfill’ post-industrial, and the brief is for collective housing, the demands on the architect are far greater: the architecture is no longer secondary and it must perform across a number of levels. As Frank Stanisic says, “the potential for architecture is, in fact, greater on these sites, as the building must take on a presence and develop an interface with the street.” The collective housing market is one dominated by developers and builders, and this territory, says Stanisic “is well and truly occupied.” Within these highly competitive environments, however, innovation emerges, and CODA, located at the southern edge of Green Square in Rosebery, is an excellent example of architecture adding value to a site through an innovative design response.
The site, with a very ‘busy’ northern frontage curving at the eastern end as it follows the sweep of a disused tramline, is in a precinct undergoing urban renewal and is therefore in state of transition. The project called for architecture that would have a strong urban presence – ‘an urban marker’ – and activate the street, whilst providing a comprehensive environmental solution. CODA, with its distinctive carriage form ‘skinned’ by a metallic environmental screen, and with a floating roof sweeping across the top level of two- and three-storey terrace apartments, has a notably expressive tectonic presence. The architects used the perimeter edge block to create an urban edge, which bends at the eastern corner in response to the site’s geometries, and the seven-storey elevation is then organised horizontally. Raised on piloti, the apartment block is cantilevered above ground level, and in doing so, defines a glazed urban terrace with shops, a café and a restaurant that provide visual continuity through the site.
The slender building form, with a slim ‘glass-to-glass’ width of ten metres, becomes a permeable wall enclosing a communal sun-shaded courtyard. The apartment types, all two-storey and adopting the cross-over plan, include one bedroom lofts, two bedroom terraces and three bedroom sky-terraces. Organised in a spatial honeycomb structure, each apartment possesses double orientation, cross-ventilation, and north-facing living spaces. The building’s skin, which Stanisic calls the ‘environmental screen’, is particularly sophisticated: this ‘screen’ – actually a three metre deep section – comprises metal framed double-height plantation shutters, multi-folding panels, and timber decked double-height ‘sunroom’ balconies accessed by sliding doors and louvred windows. This expanded threshold allows the apartments to breathe, and creates inviting, warm, light-filled living spaces. From Epsom Road, the brise-soleil of the environmental screen reads as a perforated shimmering skin: a jacket that wraps the building’s elongated curving form. The sectional arrangement of cross-over planning, with open access galleries placed at every second level, is clearly evident on the southern elevation. At each entry point on the access galleries, the entrance is widened and defined with white river stones to create a sense of arrival and a cue for the occupants to take over and modify as they wish.
Apartments are larger on the sixth and seventh storeys, containing two or three bedrooms, and seven of these apartments have extensive outdoor terraces, which extend the full length of the apartment. In these types, entry is directly into the terrace, with the living areas off to the sides. In an unprecedented move for relatively inexpensive apartments, the outdoor and indoor spaces are of equal size, creating environmentally comfortable and spatially dynamic apartments. Colour has been carefully orchestrated throughout, as the architects implemented a tempered sequence of arrival. From the street, movement is through darkly coloured access corridors into the apartments, which depending on their size and configuration, are white with dark warm greys for flooring, whilst the interior palette in the larger apartments comprises rich tones of brown and purple, with almost black ceilings. As Stanisic observes, white does not work inside these larger apartments and does not suit the overwhelming vivid intensity of Sydney’s bright summer days. With CODA, the architects have produced a visually dynamic response to an impoverished urban context with an apartment block that houses a tempered, well-modulated environment, based on passive design principles and connection between interior and exterior.
Located on a long narrow corner site in Alexandria with a dominating southeast frontage to Euston Road, a northeast frontage to Maddox Street, and facing northwest to Euston Lane at the rear, Datum is situated on another difficult brown-fill site. Bounded by noisy roads, and a mix of industrial buildings and residential developments, Datum can be seen as a companion to Stanisic Associates’ contemporaneous Spectrum project, adopting similar sectional, formal and material explorations. Spanning the length of its long, highly visible site, with tones of white and grey rendered concrete block overlaid with finely-detailed operable aluminium plantation louvred screens, Datum is an even more robust and uncompromising expression of what Frank Stanisic describes as “road architecture.”
The horizontal linearity of the Euston Road façade constitutes an architecture of rhythmic layered abstractions, recalling the functional buildings of early 20th century European modernism. The building can be read as a long perimeter form in two sections: punctuated by vertical entry light-wells, and bookended by a corner block at the busy intersection of Euston Road and Maddox Street. This main building contains 44 two bedroom, one bedroom, and study terrace apartments, all of which span the width of the building to enable double orientation and cross-ventilation. Living areas and balconies face northwest, whilst the apartments in the corner building have northwest or northeast orientations, resulting in corner cross-ventilation. This attention to orientation and materiality reduces the need for double glazing and air-conditioning, and along with the rooftop solar panels, and water management and collection strategies, Datum is another fine example of Stanisic Associates’ ‘Eco-minimalist’ approach.
As with Spectrum, access to apartments is through light-filled lobbies, which lead up to enclosed access galleries with operable glazing. This gallery system, with transparent and opaque glazing panels, and expressed vertical mullions, animates the elevation and illuminates the street below at night, thus enlivening an otherwise severe streetscape. Viewed from Euston Road, this robust block with a solid base becomes progressively lighter and more transparent at the third and fourth levels, with open balconies and fixed metal sunhoods on the top storey. In contrast, the rear elevation, facing Euston Lane, has a vertical emphasis expressed by a cellular structure of attached terraces, interrupted by sky courtyards with broad projecting sun-screens at the upper levels. Continuing the building’s tectonic expression of an abstraction detailed with an industrial or technological economy, aluminium louvres, screens and blinds are used for privacy and for protection from the afternoon sun. Unlike its precedents, driven by a more aesthetic determinism, the modern abstract language of Datum works to achieve the overarching ambitions of creating a contextually responsive urban project: an environmentally and socially responsive complex of light-filled, cross-ventilated, spacious dwellings.
A robust five-storey and decidedly modern building on a corner site, Domain is one of Stanisic Associates’ earliest hybrid projects. An environmentally responsive mixed-use development was inserted into one of the main streets of the inner Sydney suburb of Marrickville: it was a proposal that established the practice as leaders in this evolving Sydney typology. Domain demonstrated that not only was it possible to place a contemporary elemental building – abstract and compositional – into a street dominated by Victorian era low-scale shopfronts, but that such a development would reactivate the street and add to the richness of the local precinct. Whilst the architectural language employed is not as disciplined or refined as the architects’ later projects, it clearly articulates an urban agenda to bring living, shopping and working – ‘live, shop, work’ – into the same development. The aim was to create an active vibrant relationship between programs, and between the building and the streetscape. Most significantly, the architecture represents a clear departure from the then commonplace Sydney apartment buildings, which made overt reference to local context through gestures of figurative pastiche, and comprised a series of vertically stacked slabs without consideration for outdoor access, orientation or cross-ventilation: an architecture that Frank Stanisic describes as “the air-conditioned pancake typology.”
Drawing on Stanisic’s knowledge and first hand experience of the IBA collective housing project in Berlin, and his fascination with the conceptual housing projects of the early Russian Constructiists, the formal arrangement of the Domain project consists of three connected perimeter buildings enclosing a courtyard. Shops and offices are placed at street level, below the apartments, and in response to the specific heights of the surrounding context and in order to avoid overshadowing, the building heights vary from four storeys to seven storeys at the corner.
Although the tectonics are abstracted, planar and robust, with no ornamentation, a careful contextual dialogue is established through these broader formal gestures and then through the layered articulation of balconies, windows and setbacks. The ‘street wall’ building on Marrickville Road is five storeys high, but a setback at the third floor continues the parapet line of the existing shops. This ‘datum’ establishes an alternate rhythm between the darkly rendered lift cores, the cellular concrete blades that define each two-storey apartment, and the assemblage of sunshades, balconies and windows. Yellow and orange tones mark out the lobby, lifts and public entries, contrasting with the dominant colour palette of greys, purple and dark blue: reinforcing the intentional expression of the building’s program. The apartments themselves are planned around two lift lobbies, access stairs, and a secure external courtyard. All apartments – a mixture of predominantly two-level apartments, lofts and maisonettes – have generous north- and east-facing balconies and terraces. The comprehensive application of passive solar design initiatives, which eliminated the need for air conditioning, includes cross-ventilation through the slender buildings, and access to well orientated outdoor spaces, whilst the bathrooms are located on exteriors walls to avoid mechanical ventilation. Aligned with a carefully designed courtyard and gallery circulation space, Domain is a very considered environmental response, critically positioned in the evolution of Stanisic Associates.
Like their earlier Mondrian project, Edo represents another significant breakthrough for Stanisic Associates. With the clarity and precision of its tectonics, planning and conceptual intent, this exemplary project demonstrates the potential of compact and sustainable inner city living. In a move away from expressive concrete and a formal language that makes the programmatic and sectional complexities clearly legible on a building’s exterior, Edo is far more abstract and elemental. The dominant Crown Street elevation is almost diagrammatic: a simple steel framework is ‘skinned’ with retractable aluminium louvre blinds. As Frank Stanisic states, each occupant received “a frame and one big space that could be individually modified and adjusted.” The complexity remains within the interior, whilst the exterior – a kinetic and floating abstract box, reflective and shimmering during the day, and glowing and vibrant at night – establishes a contextual dialogue with the busy streetscape. A restaurant, located at ground level and spanning the length of building, becomes animated at night with coloured LED lighting, and a backlit bar and counter.
In this move towards an amplified abstraction and an even more formally restrained architecture, the architect’s motivation is simply to create a framework for ‘atmospheres’, for a dwelling that allows for a myriad of individual particularities. As part of this study, Edo explores a new plan form that, inspired by Japanese moveable shoji screens, uses slide-away translucent walls to create another spatial dynamic and degree of flexibility: beds can be folded away, and the rooms can be opened up for alternative modes of living or social requirements. The building comprises 31 single and double storey apartments of one, two and three bedrooms, with and without studies. Balconies are unusually generous at three metres, and looking out to spectacular city views and the western sun, the roof terraces are larger again at four metres, and screened by operable aluminium louvre blinds. Plantation hardwood timber is used for these outdoor spaces, which serve to extend the living area to the building’s frameless glass balustrade perimeter.
Another innovation, the gallery, is to be found on EDO’s eastern side, at the threshold between the interior and the lush courtyard. Replacing the practice’s typical access gallery system, this two storey high mezzanine gallery with fixed open louvres, creates a generous well-ventilated space that serves as a community meeting point and as access for the lower two levels of apartments. Cool air is drawn from the garden, through the gallery, through small louvres located above the apartments’ entry doors, and then through the apartment to the building’s western side. The upper two levels are accessed via a central corridor lined with reflective surfaces, such as marble walls and metallic slotted acoustic ceiling panels. The two- and three-storey apartments wrap over the internal corridor, providing well-ventilated double orientated apartments and maximising the captivating views of the city skyline. When read from an eastern vantage point, the building takes on an almost Eames-like sensibility: a wall of milkywhite glazing, steel-framed with fine aluminium mullion detailing, sits atop the gallery’s louvered wall.
In keeping with the architecture’s spatial and conceptual elegance, the entry lobby is simple and understated, finished with concrete and MDF acoustic panels. Only the huge perforated metal rings of Peter McGregor’s public art installation, set against a bright red backdrop, give a more formal indication of entrance. EDO is an acronym for Environment, Diversity, and Operability, and the application of these principles – designing compact collective housing in an environmentally responsive manner, creating a diversity of apartment types suitable for the city’s demographic mix, and providing occupant flexibility through the operability of screens, walls and openings –serves as a prototype for accommodating Sydney’s rapidly increasing population.
With its 5 star ABGR energy rating, Era is one of only a handful of mixed-use office buildings in Sydney that have achieved this level of environmental sustainability without resorting to the purchase of green credits. Occupying an infill site in the gritty urban context of Kings Cross, this seven-storey building holds 44 office strata modules, a ground floor level with fifteen shops and a supermarket, a communal courtyard, basement parking and an energy efficient substation. Envisaged as a low-energy passive environment that accommodates a ‘loose fit’ sustainable working and shopping enclave, all offices are naturally lit and ventilated. Comprised of two slim-line buildings running east west with a through-site public pedestrian way between Springfield Avenue to Llankelly Place, Era is one of Stanisic Associates’ most sophisticated mixed-use office buildings.
A transformation of the Sydney arcade type, the covered public throughway that may once have held a number of floors lined with shops now becomes a passively designed breezeway with gallery walkways for pedestrian access to the offices. The breezeway – vertically contained by fine metal gridded screens below an angled, glazed louvred roof – operates as a thermal stack: this space is an essential element of the building’s passive design, collecting cool breezes, which are drawn through to the offices by dampers located at their entry. The roof system, angled so that it lets out the hot air whilst protecting from heavy rains, bathes the arcade with sunlight. Each office has a three-metre balcony, whilst a series of operable glass louvre screens defines the building’s north elevation and encourages modification of the office spaces in reaction to the weather and the time of day. Providing a SOHO-like environment, all offices have a service pod that contains a small bathroom, a kitchenette, a data hub and a recycling store, and the flexible wall construction between suites means that an entire floor could be opened up for one occupant or company.
Through a very careful configuration of enclosed and open spaces, the breezeway can be technically classified as an exterior space, which permits flexible design of the office doors and pods. Without the requirement for solid fire-safe doors or compartmentalized pods, the threshold between office and breezeway can be more variable, containing the dampers and openings essential for the cross-ventilation and ‘breathability’ of the offices. A communal and protected courtyard space lies on the northern ground level, whilst the building’s interiors – in contrast to the robust planar appearance of the exterior – become cool, tempered spaces with varying degrees of light and a rich combination of colour and material. An industrial palette of aluminium screens, concrete and glass is embellished with timber benches, red-wine toned tiles and the warm glow of LED lighting, whilst the exterior forms a solid armature that addresses the realities of the local context: it is, as Frank Stanisic says, “a protecting shell.”
Designed in the afterglow of the Sydney 2000 ‘green’ Olympic Games, and demonstrating the potential of sustainable collective housing, Mondrian was a pivotal project for Stanisic Associates. The architects’ pursuit of a robust architectural language is highly evident: a muscular modern and abstract tectonic, yet one that yields to its context and to its environment. Located in Waterloo, an industrial suburb with the highest number of public housing developments in Sydney, the project is the most environmentally responsive apartment building in the Green Square ‘zone’ and, at the time of completion, its eco-responsiveness, its efficient use of precast concrete building technology, and its adaptation of cross-over planned apartments was unprecedented in Sydney. In the words of the architectural jury that awarded the project the RAIA Wilkinson Award in 2003, “This is delivered in a stunning and refined ‘new modern script’ that is a welcome antidote to much of the regressive nostalgia permeating our cities and suburbs.”
Mondrian is also an expression of the key ideas underpinning the Green Square Master Plan, an urban renewal project of 275 hectares (the largest comprehensive urban redevelopment in Sydney to date) won, through international competition, by Frank Stanisic in 1998. The master plan’s ideas of permeability, connectivity and interdependence inform the conceptual armature for Mondrian, and find expression at the scale of individual buildings and at the broader scale of the project’s relationship with the site’s public and infrastructural amenities. As Stanisic states, the vision of Green Square was to create a dynamic urban place, an inspirational and sustainable living and working environment for the 21st century and, importantly, one that fostered a new sensibility.
In a move away from previous projects, the perimeter edge buildings are fragmented to become a series of four buildings of between four to seven storey’s each, with their own systems of access, light wells and circulation. The typical central courtyard was dispersed to become a series of green slim-line courtyards running between the apartments and connecting back to a central circulation spine. Although the net density achieved is remarkable – the equivalent of 500 persons per hectare – and at a cost of roughly $2200 per square metre, the site coverage is only 38 percent, leaving 62 percent of the ground plane as open public and private space. Importantly, the project is not an enclave: it encourages connectivity to parks and shops, and provides 24 hour public access between the two streets bounding the site.
All but three of the 132 apartments have north-facing living areas, garden courts, or generous balconies. The slender footprint of the apartment blocks – housing one-storey apartments, two-storey terraces, and maisonettes of one, two and three bedrooms – adopts the cross-over planning section and gallery circulation systems that the practice had been researching for several years. Spanning the width of its building, each apartment is orientated to take advantage of the temperature differential between the cooler southern side and the warm northern façade to generate cross-ventilation. No apartment requires air-conditioning, and double-loaded circulation corridors have been avoided.
Mondrian is also a direct expression of the architects’ idea of an expanded permeable wall: operable and transparent to allow for direct climatic and environmental response. The northern façades read as crate-like brises soleil with deep balconies that draw in light and sun, and in combination with an external expression of each apartment type, creates layered muscular buildings that acknowledge – through a material ensemble of precast concrete, brick tiles and metal wall cladding – the thoroughly unromantic industrial context of Waterloo. Softening this aesthetic, spotted gum plantation decking and white Cowra river stones are used in each apartment, whilst delicate anodised sliding and fixed screens are used for privacy and climate control. As with most Stanisic Associates projects, and in common with the precedents the work recalls (the expressive buildings of the Russian Constructivists and the direct economy of early European modernism from Walter Gropius to Le Corbusier) there are no iconic eye-catching waterside views or rich undulating topography. The architects work with uncompromising ‘brown-fill’ sites where delight must come directly from the architecture and from the responsive and inventive curation of site, environment, space and form.
As with Domain in Marrickville, Presidio – located in the inner-west suburb of Newtown – is an early but significant project for Stanisic Associates. Whilst the materiality of the project – which Frank Stanisic refers to as “rail architecture,” with timber louvres and plywood cladding at the higher levels – is a ‘one off,’ the planning, the use of a gallery system for circulation, and the ideas behind its conception, all form important precedents for later work. Located on a triangular site, adjacent to the railway station and King Street, and bounded by Erskineville Road and Brennan Lane, the site was beset by a series of difficult constraints, such as noise from nearby trains and cars, the heights of the adjacent terraces, limited vehicle access and circulation space, and a bland commercial development to the north. The development was therefore as much concerned with careful urban repair and renewal as it was with collective housing.
The arrangement of the two dominant buildings on the site was driven by the idea of a fragmented perimeter form, which encircles, a central north-facing triangular courtyard. Whilst the architecture and the composition are muscular – the construction is largely concrete and rendered brick – the project possesses an ordered rhythmic aesthetic that expresses a cellular ‘diagram’ for the apartment configuration. In contrast to this, a delicate roof appears to float above the façades, and lightweight plywood sheeting is used to clad the topmost levels. The ‘carriage-like’ northern elevations, overlooking the courtyard, are animated by operable western red cedar sliding plantation shutters, which veil the sun-filled balconies. Defining the courtyard, and facing Erskineville Road and the railway line, these slender ‘edge’ and ‘wedge’ buildings (as they are called), hold 120 apartments in single- and double-storey configurations. The ground floor and street-facing elevations are activated by the addition of shops and a café, and the ‘edge’ building – a six-storey block adjacent to the railway – is planned so that the living spaces and outdoor balcony spaces face north, and overlook the courtyard. To the south, a more defensive protecting wall with glazed attachments shields the bedrooms from the railway, and operates to define the edge. Another string of courts, running along this southern wall, is protected by timber screens. The dwelling themselves are therefore nestled between perimeter balcony spaces, which allow for cross-ventilation, outdoor access, natural light, and further insulation from the noise.
In contrast, and in direct response to the adjacent urban context of Erskineville Road, the ‘wedge’ building is a more thickly modelled form that becomes a layered urban street wall with recessed balconies. This elevation holds the main entry, street level shops and a café. The building is set back 2.5 metres to allow for a widened footpath and cycleway, and the footpath itself was repaved and planted with trees. In an extension of its urban restorative role, this ‘wedge’ building acts as ‘moderator’ between the scales of terrace buildings along Erskineville Road and the larger commercial development on Brennan Road. Improvements were also made to the road width, footpaths, and an open space that forms part of the commercial development, whilst a through-site connection was made to the Newtown railway station at the western end of the project. Presidio, more than just a well-considered infill housing project, is also regenerative: site has been addressed in its entirety, as a system linked into the network of the inner city, resulting in a development that realises the site’s potential, and amplifies Newtown’s character and identity.
Spectrum, occupying three perimeter buildings of between three and six storeys, and containing 50 one to four bedroom apartments, represents another important shift in the oeuvre of Stanisic Associates. A medium density housing development that includes SOHO apartments, Spectrum’s dominant frontage runs along the busy and very public McEvoy Street. Located on an irregular site wedged between McEvoy Street and Lawrence Street (to the west), this ‘brown-fill’ site, formed by the amalgamation of property acquisitions from an abandoned arterial road, was compressed between a series of industrial warehouse renovations and 19th century terrace houses. The project was therefore as much a restorative urban infill project as it was one of collective housing.
Into this context, the architects inserted a surprisingly accommodating series of buildings and open spaces: both public and private. All apartments achieve an extremely high level of environmental amenity, with north-facing living spaces, outdoor balconies, courtyards and atriums. At first glance, the McEvoy Street elevation denotes a highly abstract architecture: white, linear and rhythmic, which contrasts with the crimson blade walls that frame the apartments, the vivid orange lift lobbies, and a curtain wall that encloses the gallery circulation promenade. However, this abstraction and diagrammatic approach is one that, Frank Stanisic argues, supplies the requisite freedom and flexibility to negotiate such difficult sites. Providing a delightful ‘frame’ for living, this architecture does not signify program through nostalgic reference to house or domesticity, but rather through the careful configuration and orientation of the individual apartments: spacious well-ventilated dwellings are denoted by screened outdoor spaces, and balconies with views to the central courtyard garden. Addressing the public character of McEvoy Street, and in response to changing demographics and demands for work arrangements, a series of SOHO apartments occupy the ground floor level, facilitating flexible ‘live, work’ arrangements. The six to fourteen metre setback for proposed road widening along McEvoy Street has been landscaped as a moat-like, grassed swale with pedestrian bridges.
With Spectrum’s surprising malleability of form – non-formulaic and carefully orchestrated – each elevation makes a particular response to the adjacent streetscape, as well as to the specific environmental orientation. The south-facing McEvoy Street elevation is, as Stanisic states, “road architecture” – streamlined and robust, revealing his interest in the Russian Constructivists – whilst the Lawrence Street elevation is more domestic, with a scale broken down through the modular arrangement of balconies and screens. The northfacing façades, looking onto the enclosed communal garden courtyard, are different again: operable aluminium louvre screens form a kinetic veil to the structured crate-like character of the apartments and, in its operability, this elevation takes on a changeable sculptural aesthetic that the architects were to pursue further in later projects.
Spectrum is redolent with surprise and subtle contradiction: apartment flexibility is encouraged through internal sliding walls between bedrooms and living rooms, and in the southern block, facing McEvoy Street, lightness is achieved through the northern orientation of living spaces and balconies, and a cross-over plan that creates natural ventilation. The other two apartment blocks have a Torrens Title terrace configuration, with deep private courtyards and deep balconies. The block facing Lawrence Street has the most difficult site position with an east west orientation, and centrally placed atriums draw light into the living, kitchen and bathroom spaces. Spectrum, with its diversity of expression and accommodation types, and its efficient, economic construction and planning, is an example of what Stanisic describes as “climatically responsive modernism,” which could also be phrased as ‘eco-minimalism’: a term with roots in early 20th century modernism and, in particular the ‘Existenz Minimum’ of Germany’s ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ (or New Objectivity).
Whilst Spectrum and Datum are what Frank Stanisic describes as “road architecture,” Zone – with its southern and northern elevations facing the Illawarra and East Hills railway lines – could be described as ‘rail architecture’. Located on the edge of the mangroves of Cooks River, in an area currently undergoing intensive urban renewal, Zone is one of several new housing developments replacing the existing industrial factory typology of the precinct. Although beset by the contextual difficulties of nearby factories and a floodplain, the site was ideal for high density housing, with an excellent northern aspect, views across Cooks River to the city, and close proximity to two railway stations. Conceived of as a perforated wall, Stanisic Associates proposed a permeable edge that could be repeated to the east and west of the site to form an active urban edge against the adjacent mangroves and Cooks River. Upon completion, Zone was quickly recognised as successful renewal project, which would serve as a local exemplar for sustainable high-density living.
Addressing the floodplain, with a need for open public space and an active street frontage, the project has three distinct elements: a podium, a two-storey street wall and a block-edge slab form. Raised above ground and with a northern orientation, the podium supports a public platform and courtyard, whilst on the building’s southern elevation, a blood red street wall – robust and horizontal – defines the street edge and anchors the project to its site. Rising nine storeys (with a roof terrace) behind this wall, and containing 62 apartments of one and two bedrooms over one, two or three storeys, the slab form is, by contrast, white and abstract. On its northern elevation, this language of insitu white concrete with deep balconies and flashes of bright sky-blue render, becomes the architect’s brise-soleil: a patterned framework, which is more ‘sky and landscape’ than ‘robust and industrial’. The southern elevation, with a horizontal rhythm of glazed access galleries and terraces, reconciles this white abstraction with the street and the evolving urban context. Fixed aluminium gratings are used as sun screens on the eastern and western elevations, whilst adding a finer grain to the concrete monumentality. Within each apartment, however, and in contrast to the industrial aesthetic, plantation spotted-gum timber is used for decking, and radiata pine is used for the communal courtyard’s privacy screens. Water is collected from the roof and ground, then filtered and used for irrigation of the gardens and toilet flushing.
Zone is another example what Stanisic describes as ‘eco-minimalism’. Whilst the crossover sectional arrangement has its origins in the unbuilt housing schemes of the early Russian Constructivists, Stanisic observes that it was Le Corbusier who realised this organization strategy most famously in his Unité d’Habitation. With its similar crate-like expression of concrete slab walls and balconies, and in its considerable scale, Zone recalls – perhaps more than any other of the practice’s architecture – this Corbusian heritage. The Corbusian section, with its enclosed corridor, is sliced in half to create an environmentally responsive crossover plan that serves to induce airflow, generate cross-ventilation, and provide double orientation to the apartments.