Zulaikha Laurence House
Brian Zulaikha of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer + Drew Heath Architect
Design & Approval
2003 - 2004
Brian Zulaikha and Janet Laurence
Balmain East, NSW 2067
Two storey alts & adds to a 1918 gunpowder store, just 20m to the harbour
© Clinton Weaver
© Aimee Crouch
Videography & Aerial Photography
© Modern House
At the end of arguably Balmain’s most beautiful laneway, this house by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer with Drew Heath Architect is situated on the harbour, overlooking a foreshore park. In 2007, it won both the Australian Institute of Architects National Award for Residential Architecture (Houses) and the NSW Residential Alterations and Additions Award. Clearly influenced by the owners’ love of Japan, where they have both spent a lot of time, the house is one that is responsive to its occupants and how they plan to use it on any one day as well as the seasons and the weather. It is a house that speaks more of experience than square metres; and more of aesthetics and its surroundings than a simple checklist of rooms. It offers a transformative experience to anyone who lives there or visits.
Within easy walking distance of bus and ferry stops, and close to shops, restaurants, cafes and other Balmain amenities, this house will appeal to anyone with a strong sense of aesthetics, an appreciation of the natural world and a desire to experience Australian architecture at its very best and most engaging.
“This is, above all, a consequence of Sydney Harbour’s maritime edge. This small house intensely observes its ‘sloeback, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea’ as well as its industrial and city skyline.”
The journey, by foot, to the Zulaikha Laurence House in East Balmain gives a foretaste to the experience of being in the house itself. Heading towards East Balmain on the peninsula’s spine, Darling Street, you turn to the right on a narrow and sweet laneway, with archetypal sandstone cottages on either side. You keep walking and the lane narrows from being just wide enough for one car to wide enough for nothing bigger than a bicycle. Your mood is starting to lighten, and continues to do so the more steps you take. Yet more pretty houses line the pathway, and then the bush starts to encroach on one side.
When you think you must be nearly at the end, a steep cobbled section leads down to a foreshore park and the harbour, and to a house that, from the exterior with its screens and unconventionally placed windows, you know is unlike anything you have ever experienced. In truth, there’s an easier, more level walk, with a place to leave a car – the heightened experience is optional.
The steel front door of the Zulaikha Laurence House opens to a set of Japanese-inspired steps leading up to a courtyard planted with painted bamboo and to the house itself – in reality, the steps are a series of concrete columns buried into the rock face, surrounded by ferns and bordered by a timber screen.
As well as receiving the Australian Institute of Architects National Award for Residential Architecture (Houses) in 2007, the house was also given a NSW Residential Alterations and Additions Award. At first glance, it’s impossible to imagine that it could be part of the ‘residential alterations and additions’ category but, in fact, it rose from the bones of a house that was already on the site. Brian Zulaikha was determined to use what he could of the existing house; its ground floor level was a gunpowder store from 1918, on top of which was a faux Colonial addition built in the 1990s. “It was pretty ugly and derelict, but I could tell there was something pretty special about it,” says Zulaikha. He and artist Janet Laurence were already living in the street and knew the area well – they’d heard the area below the house was one day going to be redeveloped into a foreshore park. The house might have been ugly, but the chance to have an unimpeded view of a domestic and industrial section of the harbour was enormously appealing.