78 The Bulwark
Designed and Built
Castlecrag, Sydney NSW 2068
4 bedroom, 3 bath, study, rumpus, 2 car (carport)
Three-storey house, comprising six levels with strong connection to site
© Tamara Graham
© Charlie Baker
78 The Bulwark, a generously sized four-bedroom family home, represents a unique opportunity for those who have been searching for a home that combines ‘good design’ within a natural bush setting. Set in an idyllic enclave of Castlecrag, the house feels as contemporary today as it must have felt on completion in the late 1960s.
It is a freestanding house designed by the highly respected and influential architect, W.E. (Bill) Lucas. He and his wife, Ruth, both architects, designed and built their family house at number 80 in 1957 – known as ‘The Glass House’. A daringly lightweight, minimal, timber house that was the first of four houses Lucas designed and built along this unspolit Castlecrag street, between 1957 and 1968.
78 The Bulwark is contrasted to number 80 by its solid construction but shares the same ethos of Lucas’ belief in minimal impact on the land.
“We love the way the house celebrates the natural environment, everywhere you look, floor to ceiling glass frames the beautiful bush views.”
The design takes its cues from the land, this three-storey house with six different levels, integrates sandstone boulders into the design that form part of the walls in the lower levels. Extensive use of glass, and slate floors inside and out, create a sense that the building is in complete harmony with its bush setting. This feeling is magnified further, with balconies on each level and decking connecting the building to the surrounding bushland.
There is a contrasted but complimentary experience from either side of the house. To the rear, one seems to float in the emerald canopy from the decks, light and foliage abound. And on the other, the ethereal canopy experience is contrasted by a close connection to the sandstone wall, giving a sense of strength and grounding of the house. Light bounces around and lights up the sandstone. From the window of the walk-in-robe of the master suite, one can admire this effect and the fine delicacy of the ferns growing in the crevasses of the sandstone.
The house enjoys wonderful privacy from the street. Set just below street level the house is accessed through a mature, semi-tropical landscaped garden, a curved path leads to a bridge across to the oversized front door. First impressions are of a mid-century retreat in a forest canopy.
On entering the house, those who are hoping for a mid-century feel will not be disappointed. The house has an enduring mid-century design aesthetic; split levels; white painted ceilings and masonry walls; clerestory windows; floor-to-ceiling glass; open tread stairs; slate floors; and a very rare surviving cabinetry feature, a built-in fish tank.
But perhaps the most defining feature that gives the house its wonderful flow, is the central stair. From top to bottom of the three-storey stairwell, floor to ceiling glass frames bush views, celebrating the natural environment.
The stair leads from the front door lobby area to almost every room in the house giving the house a very connected feeling. Internal accommodation is generous and well laid out, measuring approximately 237 sq m. The concrete block home features four bedrooms, two having ensuites, a large master bedroom suite with a dressing space, also having its own door to the main bathroom and its own deck, where hammocks beckon on Sunday mornings.
On the lower level is a study, large rumpus and useful internal store room/wine cellar. And on the upper level the spacious open-plan living is flooded with light from the ceiling to floor windows and the clerestory windows.
The main living space is exactly what one would hope for from a mid-century house. The living spaces are open plan but delineated. The level changes are delightful and the spatial proportions are ‘just the right size’, not too big, not too small.
It feels homely, and at the centre is a contemporary kitchen that has maintained the original open shelving. It overlooks the sunken lounge and is at the same level as the huge dining space, which gives a clue to the entertaining aspect of the house. With deck spaces on both sides, guests can enjoy a private garden setting or overlook the bush that leads down to Sailors Bay. The impression of space is much more than the 738 sq m block.
There are 63 residences in Castlecrag that have been recognised by Council and State for their architectural merit, but only one house designed by Bill Lucas is included on the list, #80 The Bulwark. Similarly to Bill, his houses do not shout or seek publicity. Significantly, in the 1972 publication ‘444 Significant Sydney Buildings’ two of the five houses listed in Castlecrag, are by Bill Lucas. A number matched only by his more widely known predecessor, Walter Burley Griffin.
78 The Bulwark is an important element in Bill Lucas’ body of work. It’s also a vital part of Australian architectural history – a house that half a century after it was built is still daringly modern and yet perfectly attuned for relaxed and comfortable living. The terms; practical harmony; and understated elegance have been used to describe other works by Bill Lucas. We believe these are equally applicable to 78 The Bulwark as it confidently looks ahead to the next 50 years of offering a quiet abode in the trees.
Bill and his wife Ruth bought four blocks of land in the 50s and turned one into a home at number 80. Next came the Saltis House, or Block House as it became known at number 70. In the following years Bill designed and built two more homes at 76 and 78, before moving on to Paddington.
The current owners – an advertising couple with a passion for design and architecture – moved into the house in 2005. Since then they have renovated the kitchen and three bathrooms, being careful not to alter the original structure or aesthetic of the house. Prior to them, the house was a happy home for one of the producers and writers of Babe.
78 The Bulwark, Castlecrag NSW 2068
4 Bedroom, 3 Bath, Study, Rumpus, 2 Car (Carport)
Internal area (approx.)
237 sq m / 2,551 sq ft
External deck area (approx.)
114 sq m / 1,227 sq ft
Land area (approx.)
738 sq m / 7,944 sq ft
Sat 11:00 – 11:45am
Thurs 6:15 – 6:45pm
Sat 20 Oct 2:30pm
Situated 8 kms north of the CBD, Castlecrag is a perfect combination of escape and city ease. Lying back in a hammock in the shade of a tree fern work seems a million miles away, but you can be there in a few minutes when work calls. There is even an ease to the parking with two cars off-street in the organically designed carport.
In 1921 the peninsula suburb was laid out by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, both of whom had worked for the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright in his Chicago studio. The Griffin’s had a Utopian view of suburban life where ‘communion with primeval nature is the common school for future architects’, a statement that could very well have described Bill Lucas’ approach. Perhaps it is this blend between ease and escape that has brought so many of Australia’s architects and design devotees following in the footsteps of Walter Burley Griffin. Some are lucky to call Castlecrag ‘home’.
The house is a short walk to Sailors Bay and the outdoor Haven Amphitheatre that Bill and Ruth Lucas were instrumental is reclaiming, along with the parkways of the suburb. Castlecrag is also known for its walking tracks that criss-cross the original subdivision of the suburb. There are many to explore and discovering the reserves is one of the joys of the suburb. With good shoes one can walk from the back of the house to the shops on Edinburgh Road.
Due to its orientation (NNE to SSW), the setting and design, light bounces around the house, capturing Northern light in all but two rooms.
Bill Lucas was indeed a visionary. Co-founder of The Design Group in 1956 (with, amongst others Neville Gruzman), vocal defender of Jørn Utzon and for many years teacher at Sydney University. Bill Lucas is one of only five Australian architects cited in William J R Curtis’ Definitive Modern Architecture since 1900, Phaidon. He was one of the first architects in Australia to champion what one might call an environmental consciousness. His philosophy of design based on human needs, which made minimal impact on the land, resulted in a number of iconic buildings,
Lucas designed quiet, understated houses that, decades earlier than most architects were even contemplating it, manage to leave their often difficult native bushland settings virtually untouched. They are houses that are not out to make a statement but, rather, are of a human scale and allow the residents every opportunity to commune with nature in the most fundamental of ways.
Bill Lucas was as modest as the houses he designed – not one to seek publicity, and yet, over the years, one whose work and way of thinking have influenced younger generations of architects, who make the pilgrimage at dusk to 80 The Bulwark to see the ‘lantern in the trees’. How many knew 74 ,76 & 78 shared the same ethos?
The list of recognised architects who have acknowledged the influence of Bill Lucas is long, but perhaps, the most notable is Australia’s only Pritzker Prize Laureate, Glenn Murcutt.
In 2002, Neville Gruzman wrote this touching tribute to his friend and colleague at The Design Group.
“Occasionally a city gives birth to a genius who will remain unknown to the general public until well after their death. Bill Lucas, the architect, teacher, inventor and philosopher, who died last September aged 76, is one of those people.”
“He adopted the motto ‘the best architecture is no architecture’, by which he meant that the best houses are those that fit into their surroundings – an ethos that can certainly be applied to 78 The Bulwark.”
Sat 11:00 – 11:45am
Thurs 6:15 – 6:45pm
Sat 20 Oct 2:30pm