Comments Bookmarc 10-05-2012

Buildings shed their boxy looks thanks to 'liquid architecture'

‘Liquid architecture’ is to buildings what plastic surgery offers to humans:  dramatically improved looks.

 For years Sydney’s apartment buildings have been characterized as egg-crate boxes that all look similar. Recently, however, some of Sydney’s buildings have started to loosen up.

Serpentine curves, artistic swirls and sculptured shapes are replacing the box-like grids and blade walls, bringing greater variety to our suburbs.

New projects by young Sydney architects Tony Owen and Kevin Ng are showing how apartments can be fun and visually provocative, combining fluid lines and soft curves yet still managing to be livable, affordable and efficient to build.

Breaking the mould

For years Sydney architects have designed apartment buildings with tight, repetitive grids because it was believed they best met planning law formulas and building economies.

However, new technologies which combine environmental principles and construction techniques mean that buildings can loosen up without compromising efficiency and cost.

1. EOS, Bay Street, Brighton le Sands

With its bustling cafes and restaurants, busy Bay Streethas long been the suburb’s main retail strip, but above street level the architecture has been less than inspiring. Rows of balconies dutifully face the roadway. Yet the best views and solar aspect are at 90-degrees to the street.

This is why EOS breaks the grid and responds to the environment.

The flowing curves of the façade optimize the building’s performance and share the views and the sun with its neighbours. The asymmetrical shape and deep contoured balconies ensure light and space resonate with the warm ambience.

Bronze-coloured metal screens feature a whimsical wave pattern which gives it a distinctly beachside look . . . so much so that it almost didn’t get approved because its curves and detailed screens were considered too different to the drab 1970’s concrete boxes which surround it.

The full frontage restaurant on the ground floor of EOS fills in a gap that has long stood in the streetscape, and will complete this famedSydney promenade as a continuous entertainment precinct.

2. Breeze, St Georges Crescent, Drummoyne

From street level this sinuous, curvilinear building provokes an air of mystery as to what lies behind its sculptural walls. From the waterfront the lines of Breeze are influenced by the various views gained across the harbour to the city beyond. These views generate differently angled elements which, like fingers fanning out, create a unique and beautiful massing.

The façades utlilise extensive louvres and laser-cut screens to the balconies. This creates an operable façade which can assist in controlling the amount of solar penetration, privacy and shelter. It also adds lightness to the building.

The design includes provision of a three-storey slot between the apartments which allows a view to the harbour from the entry lobby and from all of the corridors.

Liquid architecture

Both of these apartment buildings are examples of what Owen calls ‘liquid architecture’, which combines digital technology with environmental principles such as maximizing sun and light and minimizing artificial air conditioning, to shape the building.

“We now have the tools to create complex geometric forms as affordably as traditional designs,” said Owen, who honed the technique on his own family home, Moebius House in Dover Heights. Moebius House has received a string of design awards from international architectural publications.

Owen’s influence on Sydney architecture will further be seen with the prestigious eliza apartment building in Elizabeth Street, which is a masterpiece of curves and flourishes. Every floor of the 17-level building in the heart of the CBD is a different shape, and each apartment is bespoke.

Owen has a further 30 or so local projects in the pipeline, all of which explore complex shapes and fluid geometries.

Two more projects

Kevin Ng from MPR Design Group is another youngSydneyarchitect adopting  fluid lines and sinuous curves. In his design for a three-unit development at Point Piper, Kevin has used a series of curved blade walls to provide privacy and separation from the street, creating a protective outer skin. In contrast, the inner skin is fully glazed, opening out to private open spaces and terraces.

A house at Bronte House is another of Kevin’s designs where curved and organic forms respond to site constraints and maximise lifestyle opportunities with natural ventilation, light and views.

“The design originated from the twisted form of a piece of paper,” explained Kevin. “It's twisted folds provide privacy from adjoining properties whilst opening up in strategic parts to capture views and maximize sunlight.”

Kevin says curves and organic forms give architects a great deal of flexibility when dealing with complex briefs and site conditions. “As well as allowing us to create something interesting and unique, these designs give us the chance to experiment with different construction techniques and materials.´


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