Inner House: Week 190

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

Sydney Open is an architectural ‘open house’ that happens once a year and allows unparalleled access to some of Sydney’s most innovative buildings. This year was the tenth anniversary of the Sydney Open and everything from exclusive apartments to the ‘most glamourous watering hole in Australia’ was on offer. In total there were over 50 buildings available for viewing.

Barret and I chose to tour the ‘Inner House’ – a private residence concealed within a neo-Classical church in Darlinghurst. Built in 1926, the building was originally the headquarters of the First Church of Christ, Scientist. When the church eventually relocated to Glebe in 2010, they left a massive heritage-listed building in a residential zone. Given the development restrictions, I think it’s safe to say it was an intimidating property.

The architecture firm Bates Smart was interested in using the property as a studio, but due to the building’s zoning they instead showed the property to a potential client and suggested something rather unique. They wanted to create, “a residential ‘pod’ within the space- a reversible, demountable structure which would not compromise the building’s heritage status. At first this was to be a temporary solution. Instead there is now a six-bedroom, five-bathroom house built inside the former church.”

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

The current house completely resides within the 12 meter tall church auditorium. Most of the original pews were moved to the basement (which once housed the Sunday School), however a few pews remain clustered around the console of the massive church organ.

A short description from the architectural brochure: “within the main space, the architects have built a lightweight structure which sits on top of the original, slightly raked, timber floor. This is the dining and living area and it is bookended by two translucent, two-story cubes which contain the bedrooms, bathrooms and the seriously serious kitchen (tempura plate, deep fryer, cooktop and seating for a dozen people) to accommodate the client’s passion for cooking and entertaining.”

“The lightweight structure was manufactured off-site and then assembled on-site (it took just 14 weeks to build) and can be completely unscrewed and taken away. It uses fairly raw, contemporary materials (for example, ply linings that brace the structure), which is a deliberate strategy to contrast with the original building. In this way the integrity of the building is maintained, with old and new complimenting one another.”

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

“There’s no penetration through the roof. The kitchen exhaust, for example, has an ultra-violet hood which enables you to duct it down through the floor – it treats things with ultra-violet light so it doesn’t condense. The fireplace runs on ethanol, so it doesn’t need a flue.”

While the house was intriguing and the Harbour Bridge view was stunning, the short recital on the church organ was one of the most memorable highlights. Barret and I were very lucky because as part of the tour, a volunteer from the Organ Music Society of Sydney played a few songs for us.

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

Before the music began, the organist warmed up the 2500 pipes hidden behind a pierced screen. As the air began coursing through both the lead tin alloy pipes and wood pipes, it sounded like a muffled jet before softening into the sighing sounds of an industrial air conditioner. The pipes were in need of maintenance, but the escaping air was only noticeable during the quieter parts of the score.

While the powerful orchestral organ filled the room with Voix Celeste, Harmonic Piccolos, and Tuba Tremulants, the bright afternoon sunlight steamed into the living room. On the wall to the right of the organ was a quote from the church founder Mary Baker Eddy: Divine love always has met and always will meet every human need.

A space designed for the public, the intimacy of a home, and a church organ to fuse them together- what a cool house.

About: Sydney Open

About: Bates Smart (all photos above courtesy of Bates Smart)

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