The Italian job: how bricks enhanced a new Sydney building
The architect of an impressive coastal residence in northern Sydney says Italian bricks are key to the building’s success.
When the owners of a modest clifftop property in the beachside Sydney suburb of Avalon decided to demolish their house and commission a new one, they knew better than to try to compete with the captivating location. “Almost any new building you’ll see on a Sydney headland really stands out, often to the detriment of the surrounding area,” says architect Rob Brown of Casey Brown. “The clients didn’t want that. They asked for something that was moulded into the landscape.”
Corso bricks complementing the natural landscape
Over a period of several years, Brown and his clients painstakingly conceptualised a house that complemented the headland’s rugged cliffs and respected the site’s topography and natural features. Old-growth trees and boulders strewn around the property were to remain in place, and the land was not to be levelled.
The resulting building comprises a series of stepped, staggered and linked pavilions, each clad in distinctive dark-hued S.Anselmo Corso bricks from Brickworks.
Corso bricks are longer and skinnier than their Australian counterparts, lending the Avalon residence a distinctive European look.
The architects' point of view
“San Selmo Corso bricks are also incredibly well burnt,” says Brown. “That gives them an extra durability for the salt-laden air and also gives them lovely smokey tones, which help them blend with the sandstone and shale cliffs and rocks all around.”
For the interior walls, Brown and his clients again opted for our Corso bricks, this time in white. “We were keen to continue the distinctive form of the bricks inside and maintain that continuity,” he explains.
“The white bricks create a lovely contrast with the smokey blacks and greys on the outside and, because each brick has a distinct patina, they also tell a wonderful story as the sun moves around the house throughout the day, bouncing off the walls.”
Further enhancing the interior are ceilings panelled in richly coloured South American timber and floors laid with Italian stone. “The floor slabs are an Italian conglomerate, which is a type of stone that is made up of other stones, all cemented together naturally,” Brown says. “Like the bricks, each floor slab is unique, which gives the interior real texture and authenticity.
The team at Casey Brown knew from an early stage that brickwork would be an important feature of the Avalon residence. But the “perfect brick” proved elusive until, one day, a member of Brown’s staff happened to walk past the Brickworks showroom in the Sydney CBD on his way to the office.
Brown recalls: “He came to me and said: ‘I’ve just seen the most unbelievable bricks. They look like charcoal logs.’ So we raced back to the showroom. We were told the bricks wouldn’t be available for another nine months – the showroom had just a couple of samples. But we decided that we simply had to have them.”
Now that the project is complete, Brown says: “It’s hard to imagine it constructed from any other material.” He adds: “The exterior needed to have a certain toughness and durability about it, and these bricks certainly achieved that.”