Sitting on a corner block in Lewisham, Sydney, between a major road, urban park, and railway and light rail lines, is a series of white hexagons, stacked on ‘colonnade legs’ so that the building structure behind it looks like it might pick itself up and walk away.
Mobile seven-storey buildings are, of course, still a thing of the future, but The Alpha by Tony Owen Partners was not designed to move anyway. Instead, the hexagonal pod-like façade was crafted according to the client’s brief of developing a design that would be “unique and iconic” within the Sydney city fringe. And so it is. You won’t find many similar buildings in Lewisham.
The architects say they drew inspiration from the ordering structures found in nature
The façade, though decidedly distinctive in style, serves not only to grab the attention of passers-by, but also creates an environmental screen that controls light and frames the views of its occupants, allowing for maximum exposure without compromising privacy.
The façade also belies the fact that it is all one single structural aluminium extrusion, similar to a large window mullion. According to the firm, digital software and close working with a factory in China was used to realise this innovation which, combined with a standard nodal connection, meant the entire façade was realised at just 2.5 per cent of the construction cost – far less than a normal façade traditionally costs.
“Our greatest challenge has been in demonstrating that progressive design elements are no more expensive than standard designs,” notes Tony Owen.
“This involved constantly researching materials and fabrication methods to convince the builder that non-standard techniques were not more expensive.”
^The façade was rationalised down to two standard components, which could be affordably mass produced and assembled on site.
Another key driver for the building’s design was the idea of injecting outdoor living into apartments.
“Sydney is defined by its outdoor living, for apartment dwellers their balconies are the outdoor space, yet until now few people have explored the potential to do something special with these balconies,” says Owen. “We sought to celebrate the balcony and make being on the balcony an event.”
The amount of onsite parking was also reduced to generate better utilisation of public transport for the inner city areas, particularly as the project is located on the new light rail corridor.
Within The Alpha, the lobbies are a quieter reflection of the exterior walls, featuring profiled concrete walls and coloured glass that make their own statement. The ground floor contains childcare facilities catered for families in the 71 units, which feature two types of interiors – ‘Scandia’ uses different timbers to create a modern feel with bright finishes, open kitchens and polished floorboards, while ‘Aalto’ is bolder, with coloured glass and polished concrete floor tiles.
Each level of the building has a two-storey communal lounge area to encourage interaction between residents. This creates a void in the middle of the building that allows for natural ventilation to flow through the structure’s centre.
The Alpha is part of the new Mcgill design precinct, also by Tony Owen Partners.