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River of Life, Curl Curl, Australia by Sandbox Studio

Project name:
River of Life
Architecture firm:
Sandbox Studio
Curl Curl, New South Wales, Australia
Katherine Lu
Principal architect:
Sandbox Studio
Design team:
Interior design:
Built area:
320 m²
Site area:
696.5 m²
Design year:
Completion year:
Civil engineer:
E2 Design
Structural engineer:
E2 Design
Environmental & MEP:
Contour Landscape Architecture
Tools used:
Real Constructions
Brick, Stone, Render, Cement Sheet Cladding
Residential › House

Sandbox Studio: Aptly named after the meaning of the indigenous name of its location, River of Life sits nestled into the established coastline of Curl Curl (derived from the name Curial Curial – i.e. ‘river of life’) and celebrates both an open and connected modern liveability. Surrounded by traditional residential forms, the focus was to create a relaxed yet elevated sanctuary that was sensitive to the natural setting, while also having its own character. The reference to the double-gable silhouette pays homage to the existing context, reinterpreting the use of timber weatherboard panelling vertically instead of horizontally. The result emphasises the height and scale of the home, and together with a neutral and muted colour palette both internally and externally, an overall lightness elicits calm. 

Designed intentionally for a young and energetic family, the role of the home needed to be one of recharge and reset. The fluid and open approach to planning internally overlays a flexibility for the years ahead, connecting between zones and pushing useability out into the surrounding garden. Grounded in an environmental and social conscientiousness; materials, systems, and detailing capture a sustainable spirit throughout. Wanting also to create their own unique legacy, each selection is underpinned by an enduring relevance and timelessness, capturing a connection to place over time. 

Project Description

Bringing natural light inward and allowing it to dance internally throughout the day, River of Life is deeply connected within its natural setting. As a testament to sustainable living and the need for the notion of the home to be a place of refuge for the owners, the entirely new build occupies its site with both a restrained and intentional philosophy. Responding to both past and present, the form also acknowledges and embraces the natural elements at its disposal. Focussing on an overall light composition and feel, the sum of its parts create a calm place to both disengage and restore. The robustness of the base materials also offer a balance to the overall lightness, grounding the home.

Across the site, contrasting lines and gestures come together. A curved entry void welcomes guests in an ushering motion, leading into a sunken living area where custom concrete steps soften the transition downward. Here, natural light pours in through strategically aligned openings that frame views out and bring the landscape into the interior. Together with other passive cooling mechanisms, the increased thermal mass of the concrete foundations assist in retaining heat, while also acting as a robust base for everyday family life. Opening outward, the immediate garden and entertaining spaces become an extension of the living room. 

Outdoors, the landscape unfolds as a considered and curated canvas. Able to be adapted to suit differing ages and functions, the flexibility in the planning is ideal for the anticipated years to come and the need to allow for separation and togetherness. The rounded-edge swimming pool carries similar lines established in the concrete formwork internally and creates a focal point within the garden. Integrated amongst the architectural elements and the hard and soft plantings, the pool becomes an invitation to relax and reflect, pausing within the garden space. 

A place where past and present converge, and where the river flows liberally, River of Life is also a place where every detail sensitively navigates the landscape. From the defined architectural linework to the sustainable features integrated throughout, a deep reverence for the land and a commitment to attuned coastal living is apparent and celebrated. While the references to the traditional coastal vernacular are evident, influences from the similar climate in Palm Springs guided the planting selections and a sculptural and striking approach to the landscape. Enhancing the overall form, the interconnection between the natural and the built was also approached with sensitivity. Mused by the site itself and further afield influences, the resulting home feels connected to its people, its place and to a time of acknowledgment and respecting the landscape in a responsive way. 

What was the brief?

The brief was for a family home that is contemporary and speaks to the beachside context of Curl Curl. 

Key products used:

Natural timber

Natural stone cladding

Polished Concrete

How is the project unique?

The project is unique in it's form - the main double-gable pitched roof is a contemporary interpretation of the many pitched roof coastal homes around the area, so the result is that this home is unique in the streetscape, yet complementary. Other unique elements include the curved entry void, and curved concrete step into the sunken living area. 

What are the sustainability features?

High-spec insulation.

Several Passive Design Features were incorporated into the project, including: - Deep eaves, and metal awnings for sun shading.

- The inclusion of well-positioned windows and skylights to maximise natural light throughout the house.

- A large louvred awning over the rear deck, which is adjustable depending on the time of year/day.

By Alfredo Gonzalez

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