Divine Inspiration

Divine Inspiration


An unused Gothic church is painstakingly reinvented into a stunning contemporary residence by the architect firm of Otto Cserhalmi & Partners

The building was a derelict 1903 Federation Gothic sandstone church that had not been used for more than a decade. The building’s stonework had been marred by graffiti, the stained-glass windows were smashed and its roof materials and gutters were in disrepair. The garden was neglected with overgrown grass and the front sandstone fence and wrought-iron palisade were in a poor state of repair. The side and back fences were falling over and there was a drainage problem such that the rainwater flowing from the roof was pooling on site.

According to architect Otto Cserhalmi, the client’s brief was “to look at the attributes and potential of the site and the building and through a process of heritage restoration, re-adapt and use sustainable practices”. These were to include such strategies as the embracing of natural light, ventilation, solar radiation and water conservation. The objective was to harness these resources and to design a modern four-bedroom, four-bathroom contemporary home with spacious open-plan contemporary living area, home office and a double garage. Future disabled access and provision of space for a lift were also specified.

Otto described the main body of work that was to follow: “After analysis of the significant heritage elements of the site and building, only those of least heritage significance were altered. These were the rear perimeter wall to the street and the skillion wall at the rear of the church. A mezzanine-level floor was inserted into the main building to create an upstairs open-plan contemporary living area with bedrooms below. To the rear, a two-level glazed pavilion was added which was connected to the church at mezzanine level by a glass breezeway.

“Critical to the design was the creation of an open-plan living space placed at the mezzanine level, celebrating the spectacular heritage character of the timber cathedral ceilings. Important, too, was the addition of a freestanding glass pavilion, which was linked to the main building by a bridge and separated by a series of beautiful landscaped courtyards. The placement of the pavilion allowed the sun to enter the full depth of the church from the rear to allow natural light and heating of the masonry walls in winter. Natural ventilation and the provision of a 49,000-litre underfloor water tank were other vital considerations.

“The inspiration for the design came from examples of tranquil and private urban living, where the interior view enjoys an exquisite relationship with interconnecting courtyards, natural light and gardens. These ideas are well explored by the many wise traditional cultures such as the Japanese, Medieval and Mediterranean buildings and the wonderful architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I love the contrast between the incredible sense of lightness of the contemporary internal spaces which we added, to that of the solid protective heritage fabric of the old church’s masonry.

“In hindsight, one of the few things I would do differently is that I would like to have used more solar energy panels. In particular, I would have used the heated water from the solar panels to create a system for under-floor heating. The water is used to heat rock infill placed under the houses. This is like the system that was used by the Romans to heat water for their community baths.

“We spent a considerable amount of time and effort to get council approval to be able to do a contemporary residential design in a heritage church. We have been vindicated with our design because the project has been selected for feature in the 2007 publication, Adaptive Reuse, by the NSW Heritage Office and the NSW RAIA (Royal Australian Institute of Architects) and is a finalist in the 2007 RAIA awards for conservation works.

“I believe this renovation is special as it demonstrates what a sophisticated and intelligent tool contemporary design principles can be when applied to complement heritage building redesign. The project, by example, gives hope that all those hundreds of thousands of heritage buildings all over Australia (disused and abandoned churches, post offices, factories, town halls and other public buildings), now abandoned or neglected, can be given a new life through sensible and careful adaptation. With an inspired contemporary architecture these can become residential homes, and can also be converted into restaurants, exhibition spaces, offices, hotels and commercial spaces.”

Project particulars
THE PROJECT WAS DESIGNED BY: Otto Cserhalmi & Partners Pty Ltd
: 24 Ferry Road Glebe
PHONE: 9552 3800
EMAIL: otto@ocp.net.au
WEBSITE: www.ocp.net.au

: 9552 2344
FLOORING: Kitchen: Northcoast hardwood. Dining: Northcoast hardwood. Bedroom: Northcoast hardwood. Stair: Recycled hardwoods and frameless glass. Outdoor: Queensland porphyry granite blocks, grey and buff
WALLS: Kitchen/Casual Dining: glass balustrade/polyester painted customwood/CaesarStone benchtops. Kitchen: Plasterboard/existing sandstone. Dining: Plasterboard/existing sandstone. Living: Plasterboard/existing sandstone. Bedroom: Plasterboard/existing sandstone. Stair: Frameless glass and custom-made steel. Outdoor: Existing Church’s Sandstone/glass

OTHER: Cabinetwork throughout the project was designed by Otto Cserhalmi. Most were polyester-painted customwood, with architecturally designed fittings such as light tracks in living areas
ENTRY DOOR: Original wood and glass door/rear door is a huge pivot frameless glass door
KITCHEN: Benchtop: CaesarStone. Splashback: None. Cabinetry: Polyurethane. Oven: Miele. Exhaust Fan: Miele
SANITARY FIXTURES + BATHROOM FITTINGS: Bathroom: white mosaic floor tiles 600X300 white glazed terracotta wall tiles. Bath: white enamel frameless glass shower screens. Basin: white enamel. Tapware: contemporary chrome
LIGHTING: Meals & Hallway: Stair lighting: Main feature is the design by Otto Cserhalmi for the living area: a suspended 500mm-wide light track with independently operated controls for fluorescent uplights and incandescent downlights. Glass perimeter floors are lit by uplights. The cathedral ceilings are separately lit by purpose-designed concealed lighting around the perimeter walls. Long skylights were inserted into the ceilings over the main living areas and covered with a heat-resistant film preventing 85 per cent of the summer UV light from the sun. The stained-glass windows in the church were restored.
OUTDOOR: Landscaping, decking, shading or paving details: Landscaping was designed by Otto Cserhalmi and a landscape consultant to create an evergreen feel and maximise privacy around the site. Emphasis was on integrating indoors, outdoors, landscaping into a coherent whole. One of the focuses of the landscaping is a series of shallow reflective tiled ponds interconnected on several levels, which produce the soothing and tranquil sound of running water as a constant background for the courtyard and encourages native birds to feel at home in urban Sydney.