Set in Surry Hills’ dense urban fabric of terrace homes and warehouses, Ashlar by SJB offers a heady cocktail of inner-city location, generous proportions and compelling materiality. Comprising a mixture of studio, one, two and three bed apartments spread across six levels, the development stands on the site of the Oriental Rugs Warehouse and incorporates the original, weathered red-brick frontage, where the suburb’s industrial flavour flows into Ashlar’s elegant finishes.
Architects SJB were presented with a brief for both additional dwellings than where included in an existing DA and higher quality design throughout the development, with aesthetics moving away from the raw, warehouse feel so common in the area, and instead showcasing craftsmanship and refined glamour. Externally, brick and zinc interact with meticulous detailing, perforated screens and casement shutters add rhythm to the façade, and abundant vegetation and crisp white tiles invigorate balcony spaces. Internally, the design offers an elegant play on traditional finishes, with white-washed parquetry, soft grey timbers and veined marble interspersed by aged brass and splashes of pastel.
The material palette for Ashlar demonstrates the architects’ desire to meet their high-end brief while retaining a connection to the site and context, and in achieving this, brickwork was crucial.
“The brickwork on Ashlar was an immediate consideration due to the nature of the surrounding buildings,” explains Gabrielle Suhr, Associate at SJB. “The adjoining neighbour is an eight-storey brick building and most of the street conveys a sense of Victorian Sydney with numerous terrace houses lining both sides of the street. The bricks create defined lines, solid structural shape and stability which provides a sense of quality”.
In particular, Ashlar’s façade anchors it to its context, celebrating the distinctive texture of the Surry Hills village. “We knew the material for the façade should be a masonry finish,” Suhr recalls, “but to find the right brick is always the interesting process.” In the end, Austral Masonry’s Solitary Smooth concrete blocks in a custom colour were selected.
Brickwork also served to offset the deluxe materiality of the interiors: “The materiality was looked at through the contrast of textures and colours,” Suhr explains, “coarse brickwork against glossy white tiles, neutral colours on the exterior punctuated by pops of pastel pink and blue internally.”
The combination is winning; while a keen eye will perceive that the building does not share the scruffiness of its neighbours, it sits easily among them, and its refinement unfolds as one journeys inside.
For Suhr, the use of brickwork in Ashlar is representative of a broader shift in how the material is being employed by architects. “I think that we have tried to use brick in a featurist way in the past with polychromatic brickwork being a highlight of buildings in the late 1800s,” she says. “We are now relying less on the patterns that can be made with the colours of bricks and returning to a more crafted use of masonry that utilises the form of the brick to make expressive and decorative façades.”
“Using bricks in architecture comes from a juvenile sense of place,” Suhr continues, “after all, the wolf couldn’t blow down the house of bricks! Bricks and blocks have been used as sturdy structural forms since the BC era. The satisfying element is using such a traditional medium and creating a modern and fresh looking building. For Ashlar, this was conceived by pairing bricks with exposed concrete, tiles and metals. Turning the traditional into the modern, and celebrating the honesty of the materials.”
Unsurprisingly, the SJB team’s approach to brickwork was highly considered and they had very specific requests for Austral, their suppliers.
“It was important that the format of the brick used on the Ashlar project was a more lineal shape than the standard brick size so that the building took on more of a factory proportion than a terrace house scale,” explains Suhr. “We also wanted to use the neutral colouring and rough texture that the concrete bricks offered, a play on the traditional factory concrete block with more warmth.”
Meeting these requests, the architect and supplier enjoyed a fruitful relationship and successful outcome. Suhr recalls, “Austral initially helped with cost effective suggestions on a roman brick format option that was an extruded length concrete brick. They also helped realise this project by meeting the delivery requirements of the builder. They appreciated the importance of being able to provide the concrete brick in our preferred shade and did everything they could to provide the best service on the project.”
For Ashlar, finding the right brick was indeed an interesting process, and one which has yielded tremendous results.
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