Friday, December 20, 2013

A New Icon on Bondi Beach



I love Bondi Beach, but it's not exactly the first destination that comes to mind for photographing modern architecture. Sure, there's Icebergs on the south end which is nice - especially since they recently redid it. But beyond that? Uh… Well, the new building for the historic North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club has just built a must-see architectural icon in this little beach community. 




This building's organic forms and proportions reference classic modernist designs, such as those of Le Corbusier. 

But this project is clearly unique, at the same time. It was designed by the architecture firm of Durbach, Block, Jaggers in association with club member and architect, Peter Colquhoun. The innovative design is really an homage to the ocean, and is specific to its time, site, and function. 



I had a free afternoon in Sydney recently, and decided to go out to Bondi to see this building. Since it's a private club, I didn't have much hope of seeing the inside. But one of the architects, Pete Colquhoun, happened to notice me loitering about and struck up a conversation on the boardwalk. He was kind enough to invite me in for a tour. 

If you haven't spent any time in Australia, you may not be familiar with the unique cultural institutions there that are the Surf Life Saving Clubs. These largely volunteer institutions act as both the country's lifeguards and as private social clubs. They compete in swimming events, give lessons, and host events. Like many of these clubs in the area, the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club has been around since the early 1900s. This new building occupies the same site that the old building did. 



It's really a priceless location, sitting on the boardwalk of one of the most famous and beautiful beaches in the world. Seen from the beach, the building resembles a giant sea shell. It is entirely clad in tile that seem to change color with the light. 



But from the terrace on the third floor, those curves are tiled in blue and mimic the waves that can be seen just beyond them. 



Functionally, the building has a basement level for storage, which is filled with surfboards and other beach peraphenalia. There's more storage for kayaks and other larger equipment on the ground level, as well as change rooms, a children's clubhouse, and offices. 



On the second floor, there's a gym and a long covered terrace, with a great view of the beach and more offices. 





On the top floor, there are two huge rooms that are ideal for a variety of functions. Both are wrapped around that signature terrace and form the parapets that define the character of the building. The also both have large windows that frame the amazing view… 









The design of the building appears simple, as all great design should. But it's deceptively so. You can tell walking in and around the building that every detail was considered and everything is in its place for a specific purpose. There are plenty of little surprises, like the side windows that offer peaks at the street or the beach, the sculptural pattern on the ceiling of the covered terrace of the second floor, and the circular glass skylights with different colored glass that illuminate the atrium. The terrace on the third floor is shielded from the wind by the parapets and curved wall. And that tile cladding on the exterior is not just beautiful, it acts as an effective weatherproofing for the salt air and harsh climate conditions on the beach. 



I believe that this timeless design will become a landmark on Bondi Beach and I'm glad to have had the chance to experience it. I look forward to going back! 



Many thanks to Pete Colquhoun and the other members of the North Bondi SLSC for their kind and generous hospitality. 

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