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Today our architecture columnist Stuart Harrison visits Casba, a new multi-use residential apartment complex in Waterloo, south of central Sydney.

Designed by SJB and BLP (architecture) and BKH (interiors), Casba combines private living with public communal spaces and retail tenancies to create an urban space enjoyed by all.

25th January, 2016
Stuart Harrison
Monday 25th January 2016

Behind the sweeping white brick bands and flowing curtains of Casba’s Phillip Street façade is a rich urban colonnade and courtyard that links to Danks Street behind. We are in Waterloo, south of central Sydney, between the city and Botany Bay.

Casba is a mixed-use development – mostly apartments, but activated on the lower levels with retail tenancies and the urban spaces that form privately owned public space. Where most developments of any scale will have outdoor spaces for residents, these are too often closed off from the public at large. Here, something better has happened, the normally secured communal spaces have been opened up to the public all the time. Architect Adam Haddow (SJB Sydney) says this allows the creation of spaces the public might discover, and ‘an Australian public space that isn’t a high street’.

A key feature of the development is a colonnade through the heart of the site, running along the courtyard and acting as a pedestrian thoroughfare linking Phillip and Danks streets. The adjacent tenancies on the ground floor include bustling Kepos & Co (fitout by Danny Broe and Alice Pamment) that continues some of the rich material use seen elsewhere in the development. This urban link is a generous gesture, but also gives the inside of the project life and retail exposure. Like all good urban connections it’s literally straight, so you can see where you are going and have a sense of the street you are heading to. This clear ‘wayfinding’ beats signage any day of the week with its direct orientation.

The courtyard is wonderful space, full of sunlight, water and trees. The clear pathway through the site gives access into a series of small lobbies for residents to enter the private spaces of the development. Casba creates its own amenity through the central courtyard, and has become a development that can look into itself rather than relying on views outside. Not all sites can have views of a harbour, a city or a park.

Central to the success of Casba is the use of material – particularly brick, but with timber and concrete in the mix. Brick is used for its textured quality; and two main types – the white painted brickwork for the external facades and recycled, highly textured, red brick for landscape, paving and wall areas in the lower sections.

The luscious undulating balconies also use brick for its ability to create such curves. Despite being a rectangular form, the brick can handle these kind of sweeping lines with a textured grace that other building materials don’t do well (particularly types of panelled cladding system, where a grid of expression joints makes them look average at best).

The Phillip Street façade faces north, and makes the most of the sunny outlook. Deep balconies shade the living spaces from the harsh summer sun. Indeed, most apartments across the development have north facing living areas – a great thing to see. There is a mix of mostly two and one bedroom apartments, and without going into detail, these are well planned. The two bedders have decent-sized flexible living spaces that can be used in a variety of ways. Bedrooms, importantly, are equally sized, with less of a sense of the ‘master’ bedroom, allowing for adult share living.

The Danks Street façade has a great 70s white brick feel, with shallow arched windows that reference the last great era of white painted brickwork. It recalls a simpler, less showy form of architectural expression, that captures a need for something more authentic than the glib form making and shining claddings seen on so many apartments development (in all cities!).

The issue of apartment design has been in the public realm recently, particularly in Melbourne where a generation of poorly designed apartment towers have been built. In NSW, regulations have created better apartments generally.

This great project shows us how good apartments can be, worked into a site with a sense of robustness and generosity. We simply need more of this. How do you do a good mixed-use development? How do we provide decent, appropriately dense housing that isn’t in soulless ‘icon’ towers? Like this.

Casba’s Philip Street façade.  Designed by SJB and BLP (architects) and BKH (interiors). Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email