Cullen-Aalhuizen House

Project Status: Completed in 2007
Location: Balmain, NSW

Photography: Brett Boardman

AIA NSW Architecture Award Houses – Alterations and Additions, 2007

When our client bought the house in 2001, he asked me to design an extension on the land adjacent. I approached Glenn Murcutt, the original architect of Cullen House, at the time, who helped and encouraged the design throughout. His lasting advice to my client was that “you must not interfere with the design process” (too much anyway). I asked Glenn about what to do for things like the roof, starting work with a flat roof which then, as the plans developed more and more in a slow process over a few years, came to include a long cranked concrete beam, which allows the sun in as a source of reflected light.

I was encouraged by Glenn to go to Santorini, and so I visited that beautiful place in September 2003 which, when I reflect on it, must have influenced my thoughts. Glenn also suggested designing a pool at the end of the glass window which faced the harbour. Andrew Johnson of Arup helped with the concrete roof and forms that are heavy at the top and carry down to touch the ground so lightly. The plan for the work creates a new sliver, taken from Louis Kahn’s ideas at the Kimbell – a new pavilion here is next to an old however never higher, never longer, than the original – just a sliver of built form and light in this “wharf-like” urban landscape. Sunlight from the east and west is controlled through operable devices.

Cross ventilation passes through the centre breezeway between the old and new pavilions, and soft natural lighting lands in all rooms, mostly reflected off a concrete timber surface. The silver light absorbed by the concrete delivers a surreal effect. So too does the living room wall which opens to the harbour- the ultimate and essential room of the house.