In Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia, Raffaello Rosselli has collaborated with Luigi Rosselli architects to design their new office building. With commercial office towers and apartment buildings occupying one of the largest infrastructural markets in Australia, contributing to the construction industry’s near 50% contribution to Australia’s waste output; with each buildings energy footprint being largely based on the materials embodied energy. The collaboration between the architects on a site tucked between an area of both suburban terrace houses and two-storey warehouses, sought to resolve these issues through an often-overlooked approach of material reuse, where the planning and unique brise-soleil system has remedied both these environmental impacts through an efficient, beautiful and considered design approach through the act of making.
The project was birthed with an in-depth study of material waste streams looking for an appropriate object to adapt for a brise-soleil to filter the harsh western sun light to the main façade which given its context, was ultimately the spatial catalyst for a typical building site with limited room for architectural merit and ingenuity. Some of the design challenges with a harsh western light in Australia is not only finding a material to design a heat diffusing façade, but to also allow as much diffuse light in as possible. Attracting the collaborative team, the humble terracotta roof tile was appealing through its crude materiality, its relationship to the surrounding context and its varying outcome from being cast in clay and fired by hand. Being an often-overlooked symbol of suburbia, its commonality means that it is easily sourced without an adequate reuse market. (While out of manufacture tiles are collected, newer tiles have no market value and find their way to landfill.) Beyond this, it is an object akin to a brick, being modular and bound for a variety of aggregative methods, some rough and rudimentary and others explorative and stylised.
Taking this well-known yet ubiquitous waste product, the terracotta roof tile, a rigorous and explorative approach to sustainability and design has subsequently resulted in a beautifully complex brise-soleil façade that defines the building more commonly known as The Beehive. The unique and un-tested material required the team of architects to open up an intuitive form of designing through the act of making. The tiles geometric complexity meant multiple full-scale tests and hand built prototypes were built and examined to inform the final design. The object was revealed to be flexible in order to achieve multiple objectives, where each tile course was placed based on its function.
The acute course was used at the bottom due to its construction strength as well as obscuring the solid spandrel panels beyond. The equilateral tiles respond to the vistas perceived at eye level inside the building, reducing visual obstructions. While the diagonal tiles were used at the upper datum of each level due to their low clearance and were angled north for tempering the light and controlling heat intake. It also took on the ability to take on the curve of the buildings desired form which, linked its misaligned neighbours and allowed the paperbark tree (Melaleuca) to unify with the stepped back form of the building.
This varying complexity of tile placement hides the concrete construction beyond, reducing the buildings perceived height and allows the façade to be read as a single connected geometry.
Retaining the feeling of the two-storey warehouses to the south with hidden floor levels and a setback upper storey, the buildings primary gestures came through a consideration of its immediate contextual setbacks and heights. A curved awning at street level casts a generous interface with the street mimicking the paperbark tree that encroaches on the site and forcing a connection of the brise-soleil façade with the entrance. Internally the building houses, amongst other commercial spaces, a light-filtered architecture studio designed as an environment to stimulate creativity and teamwork. To combat the generic and often alienating nature of open plan office buildings with limited access to natural light, the design seeks to provide an active space with opportunities for more intimate arrangements. Multiple working positions are offered through the custom-built joinery, which was largely repurposed from the former studio, another element of a drive for up cycling on this project. The 8m floor span allows the space to avoid being closed in by columns or thicker slabs and load bearing walls, rather it is defined by two linear rows of semi-enclosed booths with each architect being allocated two desks, linked by a long linear standing beach for collaborative work.
With the servicing being allocated to one side of the building it allows the space to direct itself more openly and naturally towards the beautiful western light and the terracotta brise-soleil that controls it. On the top floor is a communal garden terrace, for the occupants to use. Below this level, a conference table is semi-enclosed by a terracotta tile bookshelf, showcasing a variation of the stacked module for interior use.
This collaborative project by Raffaello Rosselli and Luigi Rosselli Architects conveys a public demonstration for the possibility to reuse waste products from the construction process and to discover new ways to harness their inherent and crude beauty. Beyond the ingenuity of the terracotta tile re-use for its street interface and brise-soleil system, the building responds and offers a beautifully formed building within its tight constraints. It mimics other pocket openings at street level offering intimate and tactile spaces to engage the public. Its internal planning makes the best of what the site could offer and fosters a creative and adaptable working space. With internal lighting that is unique and tempered, it does not rely on expensive and scarce materials to define its value, but the simplicity of astute spatial planning, visible detailing and an aesthetic celebration of adapting a crude symbol of suburbia.
Location: Surry Hills, NSW, Australia
Council: City of Sydney
Completion Date: 2017
Project Team: Raffaello Rosselli, Luigi Rosselli, Jeffrey Blewett, Lluis Molins Calvet Client: Luigi Rosselli Architects
Builder: Jim Miliotis for GroundUp Building Pty Ltd
Façade construction: Callum Coombe
Landscape Architect: William Dangar Associates
Joiner: Maluva Joinery Pty Ltd
Custom brass lighting: Oliver Tanner
Photography: Prue Ruscoe, Ben Hosking, Raffaello Rosselli, Callum Coombe