Billed as “a piece of sculpture to be lived in”, Smart Design Studio’s Indigo Slam on the edge of Sydney’s Central Park is a compelling piece of architecture that seems to sit somewhere between blockbuster museum and brutalist monument. Which should be about right, as this is a house to display art as much as to show off a lifestyle.
Central Park has emerged in recent years as Sydney’s nexus of contemporary starchitecture. Developers have vied with each other to commission ever starrier names. Jean Nouvel’s One Central Park with its cantilevered solar reflector is intended as landscape as much as architecture, while Foster + Partners’ forthcoming Duo towers with their streamlined corners are intended to bring a little more high-tech chic.
A short stroll away, Frank Gehry’s outstanding Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at the University of Technology makes the neighbourhood’s brick warehouse walls wobble with wonderful sculptural abandon. But Indigo Slam is a (relatively) small building that packs a powerful punch in a less spectacular setting on the edge of the new development.
The street front is defined by curving concrete elements, the purpose of which is to scoop light into the interior, directing it into almost museum-quality spaces. Those same curves then form cowls to other interiors, shading them from the light. The result is an exuberantly 3D form reminiscent of some of the more extreme experiments of the 1960s and 1970s and perhaps even a little of the wilder excesses of the Japanese Metabolism of the same era, with its strangely sci-fi machine aesthetic.
The curves carry on in the interior with a series of stunning vaults, most notably in the long stairway that forms the spine of the house. Here a barrel-vaulted ceiling peels away gently to admit light into an almost numinous space. The way light enters is reminiscent of Jørn Utzon’s Bagsværd Church (completed 1976) in the suburbs of Copenhagen. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Utzon’s extreme presence in the architectural psyche of Sydney (his opera house is, arguably, the first contemporary icon) did not exert an effect here. Even the beige bricks on the stairs and the floors recall that Danish attention to detail and crafted surface. The bricks are laid in simple but disrupted patterns, with courses occasionally butting in at 45-degree angles to create what looks a little like herringbone but isn’t quite — a dynamic pattern that keeps the eye moving across the surfaces. The interiors are as vast as the exterior suggests, and include a dining room with an attenuated table that is more refectory than domestic space.
The barrel vault with the unseen light source reappears everywhere, in the kitchen, the bathroom, the living spaces. The refined concrete surface of the exterior gives way to finely veined white marble and smooth plaster on the inside, the brilliance of the surfaces reinforcing that idea of the interior as gallery. The lightness and whiteness is set off by chunky dark timber louvres and brass window winding gears along with brass fittings and plumbing, while the gate has the house’s name inscribed in ostentatiously huge letters.
This is not a self-effacing house and rather outside the more austere Anglo-Saxon tradition. It makes a statement and its façade becomes a kind of public sculpture. There is hi-vis hubris here. But it works.
Photographs: David Roche
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