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A Tropical Sydney Tree House Assembled Like A Meccano Set

Architecture

Balmy Palmy is a compact 94 square metre house located on a bushland site in Sydney’s Palm Beach.

Firmly planted on a steep and rocky slope, the exciting new home suspends the owners in the tree canopy (best appreciated from the oversized hammock), with views of the water below.

CplusC Architectural Workshop masterfully managed the design and partially prefabricated building process to navigate the challenging site, creating a contemporary tree house on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

23rd August, 2022

Balmy Palmy is a compact 94 square metre new house on a bushland site in Sydney’s Palm Beach, with views to the water below. Photo – Renata Dominik

The home is accessed from ground level by a spiral staircase to lessen the impact on the existing sloping site. Photo – Renata Dominik

Architect and builder Clinton Cole explains, ‘Carving the house into the hill wasn’t an option — why excavate the very landscape we’re celebrating? So, we decided to plant it proudly in the ground on bored concrete piers.’ Photo – Renata Dominik

The interiors extend onto generous outdoor spaces including a deck and mesh that serves as an oversized hammock. Photo – Renata Dominik

CplusC designed these outdoor areas to embrace the tree canopy as intimately as possible, without touching a single branch, once again overcoming the difficult site. Photo – Michael Lassman

The material selection of timber, corrugated iron, and fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) facilitates a home with low embodied energy and minimal maintenance. Photo – Renata Dominik

Balmy Palmy was constructed using a partially prefabricated method. Photo – Murray Fredericks

With a soundscape of bird calls, the home feels like being in a tree house.Photo – Murray Fredericks

The kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms are stacked along the outward-looking building. ‘With no hallway, you’re in nature whenever you leave a room,’ say the architects. Photo – Murray Fredericks

Glimpses of the beach, jetty, and Pittwater village shift behind foliage. Photo – Michael Lassman

‘The home is humble in scale, celebrating a simple way of life immersed in the view and the natural surrounds,’ says architect Clinton Cole. Photo – Michael Lassman

Amelia Barnes
Tuesday 23rd August 2022

‘Our intention was to express the structure of the building in a contemporary yet abstract representation of the surrounding tree trunks.’ – Clinton Cole

When presented with a waterfront site, there’s often a temptation to maximise views via tree removal and excavation, but CplusC Architectural Workshop weren’t interested in this invasive approach.

In designing ‘Balmy Palmy’ in Palm Beach, Sydney, the architects instead chose to ground the house on the existing rocky escarpment and dance around five mature trees. Architect and builder Clinton Cole explains, ‘Carving the house into the hill wasn’t an option — why excavate the very landscape we’re celebrating? So, we decided to plant it proudly in the ground on bored concrete piers.’

The resulting two-bedroom, one-bathroom home is a 94 square metre timber structure accessed from ground level by a spiral staircase. ‘Our intention was to express the structure of the building in a contemporary yet abstract representation of the surrounding tree trunks, particularly the muscular nature of the Moreton Bay fig’ says Clinton. 

The house was constructed using a partially prefabricated method to reduce its embodied energy, and navigate the challenging site. Clinton describes the process as coming together ‘like a Meccano set.’ He explains, ‘The build system devised by our team meant we could maintain the uniqueness of design with a structure that was prefabricated off site to be simply bolted together on site. Taking the construction process back to a basic bolted assembly system allowed us to build this home in record time and to control the quality of the build to exacting standards.’

CplusC carefully managed the eventual installation of the structure to ensure minimal cranes, heavy lifts, or impact to significant trees. ‘The only time we needed a large crane was for the installation of the spiral staircase. The fit of the stairs took two of our team only three hours to install,’ says Clinton. ‘Being the builders of our projects keeps us very grounded in the reality of how our built designs perform, how much they cost to build, and how long they take to build.’

While the budget and site dictated a relatively modest floor plan internally, clever design ensures the home can sleep up to 12 through an assortment of bunks, trundles, and fold out beds.

The interiors extend onto generous outdoor spaces including a deck and mesh that serves as an oversized hammock. CplusC designed these outdoor areas to embrace the tree canopy as intimately as possible, without touching a single branch!

‘The site’s challenging nature had apparently deterred many looking to develop the land, which imposed strict development controls and environmental constraints,’ says Clinton. 

The material selection of timber, corrugated iron, and fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) further facilitates a home with low embodied energy and minimal maintenance. ‘Although FRP uses more energy to manufacture, the fact that it is easy to install, requires no maintenance and has a lifespan of well over a hundred years means less energy is required throughout the entire lifespan of the home.’ 

Lying in the hammock while watching families on the beach below through the foliage is the owner’s favourite element of the home. ‘It is hard to describe in words the feeling when you are up there. Being able to look out into the horizon from every room just makes it feel like a different world.’

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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 bea@thedesignfiles.net