Turner Studio’s Blackwattle Apartments blend old and new in a heritage Sydney locale

Thanks to its mix of brick and masonry, Turner Studio’s Blackwattle Apartments pays homage to its heritage surroundings.

Is it possible to design a modern apartment block that won’t clash with the heritage values of its older neighbours?

That was the challenge facing Turner Studio when it was approached to work on the Blackwattle Apartments development in Sydney’s Ultimo-Glebe precinct.
The resulting design, which was shortlisted in the 2020 NSW Architecture Awards, makes prominent use of brick in order to connect with the area’s industrial heritage – many of the surrounding warehouses date back to the early 20th century.

Dan Szwaj, a director at Turner Studio, says the design concept needed to form a bridge between Ultimo’s post-industrial landscape and the residential profile of Glebe. “We found inspiration in the built form found in the immediate area,” he says. “Ultimo is typified by large warehouse buildings, industrial façades and the repetition in openings and roof forms, while Glebe is small in scale.”

Commissioned by City West Housing, the new residential block on Wentworth Street provides affordable apartments for people on low or moderate incomes living in one of Sydney’s most densely populated inner-city precincts.
In order to meet this interesting design brief, Turner Studio chose Bowral Dry Pressed Bricks as a key building material for the new apartment block; these bricks are celebrated for their craftsmanship, high-quality finish and durability.

“We were looking for a good quality material that could stand the test of time and provide a pleasing aesthetic result – not just in the first 10 years but long-term,” Szwaj says.

“We also liked the wide range of bricks available, choosing a combination of Bowral Blue and Chillingham White bricks for the different elevations of the building.”

To achieve the intricate designs required, Turner Studio also used a combination of Bowral 76 and Bowral 300 bricks, and Szwaj was delighted with the end result. “That gave us a lot of flexibility in terms of patternation and detailing. We really enjoyed that as a design tool,” he says. “We used around 10 different brick patterns.”
Having chosen Bowral Bricks for the project, the architects worked closely with the builder to assemble a highly skilled bricklaying team in order to achieve the best possible outcome: “The team was handpicked and took a lot of pride in what they did.”

The intricate masonry façades are a key design element in the new apartment building, which also features off-form concrete finishes, precast panels and polished concrete foyers.

Szwaj says that responding to the distinct architectural personalities of both Ultimo and neighbouring Glebe was an interesting challenge, alongside the need to create affordable but high-quality housing for Sydney’s inner city.
“It was the client’s preference to use masonry as a low-maintenance building material but brick was appropriate in the context of the area,” he says. “We used the brickwork as a containment element but also as a screen on the balconies.”

Blackwattle Apartments, completed at the end of 2019, meets the brief to create much-needed affordable accommodation while still providing a vibrant, desirable and memorable addition to one of Sydney’s most historic areas.

As part of Brickworks’ At Home with Architects webinar series, Turner Studio’s Stephen Cox and Dan Szwaj talk about some of the practice’s recent projects.


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