Smithfield Avenue

Case Study: Smithfield Avenue

Sandstone is an evocative material in Australian architecture. Serving as a building block of many heritage buildings – from houses and schools to civic and religious institutions – sandstone embodies a sense of history, solidity and refinement. The owners of this house, designed by Walter Barda Design and built by CTQ Group, had visions and recollections of old sandstone and earthen-wall buildings from their travels and time growing up in the country.
Smithfield Avenue
Walter Barda Design
CTQ Group
Justin Alexander
Austral Masonry Architec Split Face Alabaster and Austral Masonry Architec Honed in Alabaster

Walter Barda Design used GB Split Face Blocks and GB Honed Blocks to evoke the textured and smooth surfaces of sandstone, while providing an affordable, low-maintenance, durable material. “The house is a bold and expansive dwelling that is materially rich and gutsy in its expression,” says project architect Mathew Mariani of Walter Barda Design. 

The house is Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs is home to family with three young children. Their brief asked for a vibrant but relaxed home that catered for the family’s active and adventurous lifestyle. They wanted natural and tactile materials and an effortless connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. “The design centred around creating fluid indoor-outdoor living spaces through a sequence of pavilion structures, double-height voids, outdoor walkways and courtyards that create a direct connection to the outside,” Mathew describes.

Located on an east-west battle-axe block, the design of the house juxtaposes an expressed structural steel grid frame and glazing along the northern edge, and a solid masonry block wall and curved steel façade along the southern spine. The steel frame and glass allow the house to open up to the aspect, garden and northern sun, while the masonry and steel façade protects the building from southerly winds and weather, and presents a solid wall and enclosed, compound feel to the street. Open-plan living spaces on the ground floor are open plan, flowing out to the garden, while bedrooms on the first floor are contained and private. 

Smithfield Avenue
Smithfield Avenue

The design team used two complimentary masonry blocks in different finishes to aid the fluid indoor-outdoor connection. The clients visited the Brickworks Design Studio in Sydney and the design team tested many samples on site before selecting GB Split Face Block in Alabaster and GB Honed Block in Alabaster. “This was a good process to go through the options and consolidate decisions,” Mathew explains. 

GB Split Face Blocks are used for the masonry wall along the southern spine of the house, providing the sense of solidity and enclosure. The textured surface has a more earthy appearance, fitting with the outdoor environment. “The Split Face Blocks echo and evoke the character of sandstone and earthen walls and deliver on the client’s brief for texturally rich and natural materials,” Mathew says. The rugged appearance of the Split Face Blocks is created during the splitting process to produce a bold textured, exposed-aggregate finish. 

Smithfield Ave

In contrast to this textured surface, GB Honed Blocks present a smooth refined finish, showcasing the subtle beauty of the natural aggregate surface. The Honed Blocks are used internally, including for the living area and bedroom, which has a distinctive curvature that mimics the curve of the steel façade. 

“The curvature is created by the structural steel portal frame and then cladded/infilled with a mixture of finishes. The GB Honed Block was utilised for the internal wall, with an external cladding system utilised for the external wall to create a reserved block veneer construction methodology,” says builder Matthew Ayoub of CTQ Group. 

There are moments inside the house where the two blocks are used in combination, enhancing the sense of merging indoors and outdoors. A wall of textured Split Face blocks rises alongside the staircase, while the end of the wall is smooth Honed Blocks. “We used them in tandem in areas, with the walls being Split Face and the edges and highlights being Honed,” Mathew describes. “The Honed blocks on corners, cappings and reveals is a kind of classical trim echoing old sandstone detailing and adds a refinement and softness to what is a gutsy and solid building element,” says Mathew. 

“The Split Face Blocks echo and evoke the character of sandstone and earthen walls and deliver on the client’s brief for texturally rich and natural materials.”

Mathew Mariani
Smithfield Ave

“The Split Face Blocks echo and evoke the character of sandstone and earthen walls and deliver on the client’s brief for texturally rich and natural materials.”

Mathew Mariani
Austral Masonry Architec Split Face in Alabaster
Austral Masonry Architec Split Face in Alabaster
  • The rustic finish of split face creates a distinctive look. The splitting process used to create these blocks produces a bold textured, exposed aggregate finish.
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Austral Masonry Architec Honed in Alabaster
Austral Masonry Architec Honed in Alabaster
  • Embrace the elegance of this block as its subtle sparkle of natural aggregate shines through.
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