Full metal jacket house: where the city meets the bush

Full metal jacket house: where the city meets the bush


Glittering one day, spectacular the next, Seaforth is a hop, skip and a 12km jump from Sydney’s CBD. It’s also the location of one of the most exciting homes to make its mark on the property scene, dubbed the Full Metal Jacket house

Formerly the site accommodated two long and irregular-shaped lots perched on a cliff edge. Despite the wild and overgrown state of the site, the dominant views over Middle Harbour were enough to forgive countless sins, including the level of dilapidation.

A native forest sits adjacent to the site, adding to the secluded bushland character and belying its proximity to the city. However, this charming locale on Sydney’s Northern Beaches also comes with a Flame Zone bushfire attack risk level (the highest category). Despite this, the new owner was determined to make use of both allotments and design two homes — one to live in, and one to sell. “This was a site the owner would develop, so the brief was to minimise the budget and maximise the sale price,” says Sanctum Design director James Cooper. “While the flame zone category would dictate the use of shutters and flame-proof construction, he did not wish for the home to look like it had a high bushfire ‘risk’.”

The home designed for the buyer to live in was inspired by his active family of four and includes four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living areas, one study, plus a library, plunge pool and three-car/boat garage. “The purpose was to provide a new lifestyle home for the family, while profiting from the sale of the second home to pay for the occupied one,” says James. However, a few hoops needed jumping through before the brief could be brought to fruition. Namely, the awkwardness of the long and irregular site arrangement, the steep cliff face restricting the building envelope, its position in the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Protection zone, and its Flame Zone bushfire category rating. Not just that, the narrow site made accessibility difficult, and the west-facing views were accompanied by hot westerly sun.

The initial thought process was to draw out the almost rural nature of the site by using the “great Australian steel shed” as the core inspiration. By establishing two “twin” pavilions it allowed the building to be articulated via a central linkage element. This link became the pivot point to bend the building around the awkward boundary, in turn availing a north orientation for the living areas and exposing the dramatic Middle Harbour views to the west.

The “shed” was to be modernised, and its two-storey form disguised using a strong textural metal skinned box floating above a more conventional base, effectively eliminating the two-storey appearance. “The strong vertical metallic textures emulated the industrial farm shed and created a ‘Full Metal Jacket’ that will protect the building from the harsh exterior,” explains James, who adds that the stark industrial cladding provides a contemporary edge and contrast to the natural character of the site. These contradictory elements ultimately make the home as successful as it is, with the dark external colours helping to camouflage the Full Metal Jacket house and allowing the pink- and orange-hued bark of the surrounding Angophora trees to be celebrated.

Another aspect worth celebrating is the successful integration of bushfire shutters into the expressed metal skin of the building, giving the structure an armadillo-like appearance when the shutters are closed.

Aside from the visual responses to the environment, the home was designed as a passive solar building, with natural cooling and heating forming the main climate regulation system, and the lightweight building system reducing embodied energy. Inside, glazed windows draw the winter sunshine to keep the Full Metal Jacket house warm during winter, and comfortable year-round.

An accomplished team of builders, interior designers, engineers and labourers were involved in the Full Metal Jacket house, which evokes the brutal imagery of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War film by the same name.

High-level town planning assessments were carried out in these initial phases, with bushfire consultants heavily involved to avoid issues down the line, and unforeseen expenses.
After exploring different construction methods for cost-comparison purposes, the final design was laid down. “The way this building responds to its harsh environment, how it opens up and closes down in a very honest, yet discreet way, makes it unique among its neighbours and sets the tone for a truly Australian character that is undeterred by popular styles and influences from Europe or the Americas so prevalent in today’s urban environments.”

Written by Louise Smithers

Originally in Grand Designs Australia Volume 7 Issue 1