Buhrich House II
photo © Michael Wee

Site Overview

sitename:
Buhrich House II
architect:
Hugh Buhrich
other associated with the building:
Eva Buhrich & Clive Buhrich
date of commission:
1968
date of completion:
1972
address:
375 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag, NSW
classification / typology: 
Residential / Houses (RES)
protection status/heritage listing
NSW State Heritage Register (01513)
also listed on the Local Environment Plan as a heritage item.
Fiche Author
Rebecca Hawcroft/September 2023

Description

The Buhrich House at 375 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag was designed and built from 1968 to 1972 by European-trained migrant architect Hugh Buhrich (1911-2004) for his wife Eva (nee Bernard) Buhrich (1915-1976) and their twin sons Neil and Clive. Eva Buhrich, an architecture graduate and highly regarded architectural journalist no doubt had a strong influence on the project.
Shortly after migrating to Australia from Germany, the Buhrichs bought land at 315 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag from Marion Mahony Griffin in 1939-49. They lived in a small temporary building nearby while slowly building their first house.
The Buhrichs bought the block of land at 375 Edinburgh Road in the 1950s. The site is part of the original Castlecrag Griffin subdivision which contained a small ‘Knitlock’ building designed by Walter Burley Griffin in the 1920s. In 1961 Hugh Buhrich constructed a boatshed on the site and from 1968-72 a two-level house attached to the original small Griffin building.
Hugh was a little recognized, but highly regarded architect who worked mainly in residential design in Australia from 1945-1991. Eva was well-known through her journalism; most notably an architectural column in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ from 1957 to late 1968. Built by Hugh, the Buhrich House is an uncompromising and representative example of Buhrich’s architectural work and craftsmanship in the later phase of his active professional career.
In 1982, Buhrich’s son, Clive Buhrich, also an architect, enclosed the lower level, in part to create additional living areas. This space is not connected internally to the main house. The house has otherwise not been altered.

original brief/purpose

The Buhrich’s used this waterfront site to continue to explore architectural and construction techniques in their own home.

significant alterations with dates

The lower level was extended and enclosed for additional accommodation by son Clive Buhrich in 1982.

current condition

The building is in excellent condition

general description

The following description has been taken from the State Heritage Register:

“The Buhrich House is set on the waterfront at Castlecrag and incorporates the remnant of a Walter Burley Griffin ‘Knitlock’ structure (an interlocking concrete block designed by Griffin). In contrast to the so-called Sydney School houses with their predictable embrace of ‘natural materials’, this building is deliberately counter-balanced against its locality, both to reduce the actual site ‘imprint’ and accentuate by contrast the precarious topography. (Durbach/Lassen [Myers]; 1991)

“Myers describes the difficulty perceiving the building as a whole from the outside. ‘The house is almost invisible unless you know it’s there” (Myers, 1992; p40). It is set high above the waters edge on a steep rocky escarpment amongst overgrown gardens and organically inspired landscaped stone steps and retaining walls, an integral part of the Griffin’s organic philosophy.

The exterior of the building reads as a series of reinforced concrete blade walls and sandstone walls (quarried from the site) set on a concrete platform with a combination of catalogue metal framed glazed walls and sliding doors, and sculptural feature elements. On the south elevation adjacent to the entry there is a ‘floating’ rectangular wall – a feature of perforated timber louvres which appears to float in glazed surrounds. The wall, in fact, is supported on small diameter pipe columns. The north wall is completely glazed and provides water views though the curtain of native trees. The heavy sinusoidal roof mass passes over as a visually uninterrupted form from the interior to the exterior, and appears to float above the windows on this elevation. The roof is clad in sheet copper. The deck, with no handrail, is reached by an external spiral concrete stair which cantilevers precariously above a sheer drop to the water’s edge. The house is ‘consciously not very carefully crafted but like a Yangtse junk is intentionally slightly rough and with a mixture of off-the-shelf components and materials’. (Myers, 1992; p40)

The interior of the building has a strong connection with the outside. The main living space contains an elevated kitchen and dining area, which look over the living space through the trees to the water. The kitchen is a well-crafted piece of timber ‘furniture’ carefully designed as an insertion in the living space. Stone masonry forms a sculptural fireplace and an end wall, and a sinusoidal motif tapestry (also by Buhrich) located on the ‘floating’ wall is the back drop to the cantilevered dining table. The fixed and free furniture has been designed and chosen to complement the space as sculptures within a sculpture. The bent-wood chairs covered with cowhide were designed by Buhrich and the dining room chairs are by Eames.

In plan, the living areas are separated from the bedrooms/study and bathroom by a glazed corridor adjacent to a garden area to the south. The 2 bedrooms (plus study) are simple spaces, painted white with modern built-in furniture. Between these rooms is the bathroom, which is a continuous and organic form whereby the bath and basin are moulded as one with the wall. The form/finish is a luminous red moulded fibreglass. There is a stunning contrast between the bathroom and the openable glazed wall to the north, the water and the canopy of trees.

The existing small two-storey Griffin building adjoins the carport at the driveway (upper) level. Its construction is “knitlock” concrete blocks with a sandstone base in part. There is an external entrance to this building from inside at the junction of the modern Buhrich House.

The lower level of the Buhrich House has been recently enclosed in part to create additional living areas. It is not connected internally to the main house.

A timber walkway, similar to the upper-level balcony/deck, provides access from the lower level of the house via a diagonal concrete stair to the boatshed at the foreshore.

construction
The building is constructed of precast concrete, aluminium, moulded fibreglass, timber, copper and steel.

context
The building is located on a site that is within a statutory heritage conservation area of Castlecrag.

Castlecrag was established in an undeveloped area to the north of Sydney by American Architects, and former employees of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony. Griffin and Mahony moved to Australia after winning the 1912 international design competition for the Federal Capital, Canberra. By 1919 they had formed the Greater Sydney Development Association to purchase 263 hectares in Middle Harbour, which became known as Castlecrag. They then devoted the next fifteen years to developing and promoting the area, while maintaining their architectural practice. In 1920 they began to develop their ideal suburb of Castlecrag as a collaboration between nature, which they conserved where possible, and architecture, which they designed and built.

Evaluation

technical / The building is of Technical Significance:
The building is of technical significance as it was constructed using a combination of proprietary items (such as aluminium framed sliding doors) in combination with handmade, unique elements (such as the moulded fibreglass bathroom and the undulating ceiling in the living area.) Built virtually by hand by Buhrich the house is a singular example of architecture responding to its site.

social / The building is of Social Significance:
As the work, and home, of two German-trained emigre architects the Buhrich house represents the influence of European modernism as practiced by the post-war refugee community in Sydney. The Buhrichs, although with modest careers, can be seen to have had a significant influence on architecture in Sydney; particularly Eva Buhrich as a prominent architectural journalist.

The house is also significant in the context of Castlecrag and the progressive artistic community that flourished there after the Griffin’s established the suburb and following WWII.

cultural & aesthetic
The building is of Aesthetic Significance:

The house itself is of historic and aesthetic significance for its bold and original sculptural qualities. It is modern without reference to typical stylistic architectural language. It demonstrates the international education of the architect, combined with experimentation with construction and materials.

Its use of concrete and steel on the street elevation contrasts with its lightweight northern façade. In this way it can be seen to combine the architectural styles of Brutalism, with a heavy connection to the earth, and modernism, with lightweight structures elevated above the ground, in a uniquely crafted individual response.

The interior, including furniture, and the exterior have a strong sculptural relationship. The choice of materials, structural elements and furniture (both fixed and freestanding) create an architectural organic form of high integrity.

The building is of Iconic /Canonical Significance:

The Buhrich House is considered to be one of the finest modern houses in Australia. It has been published in a number of the major Australian Architectural journals and books, and in the Harvard Design Magazine (1997). It is recognised for its unique combination of off-the-shelf items and materials, hand crafted features, modelling of architectural space and forms, and relationship to the site. It demonstrates a timeless merging of craft, art, architecture and relationship to site.

The house received the Australian Institute of Architects (New South Wales) Enduring Architecture Award in 2015.

Historic The building is of Historic Significance:
The house demonstrates a particular evolution of the international influences of Modernism in Australia, which the Buhrichs brought to Australia as migrants in 1938.

The Buhrich House is of historical significance as it represents an aesthetically significant modernist contribution by an outstanding migrant architectural couple to the harbourside suburb of Castlecrag.

Documentation

House: Hugh Buhrich 1972, exhibition curated by Neil Durbach and Cathy Lassen, Garry Anderson Gallery, Sydney, 10 September-5 October 199

Peter Myers “Buhrich House” in Architecture Australia July/August 1992 pp.40-42

Hugh Buhrich in conversation with Elizabeth Farrelly “Hugh Buhrich’s house” in Architecture Australia July/August 2004 pp. 86-91

Karen McCartney “The Buhrich House II” in 50/60/70: iconic Australian houses, three decades of domestic architecture, Millers Point, Murdoch Books, 2007

Bronwyn Hanna, ‘Absence and presence: a historiography of early women architects in New South Wales’, PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2000, http://www.library.unsw.edu.au/~thesis/adt-NUN/public/adt-NUN2000.0006/


More Description

Hugh Buhrich’s second self-built family home in Castlecrag, Sydney, is today acclaimed as one of Australia’s finest modern houses. Precariously perched on its sandstone foreshore, this daring counterbalanced concrete structure supports a cantilevered construction that is simultaneously buried in bushland on Sugarloaf Point yet abstractly hovers above its spectacular setting. Literally and metaphorically an extension of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony’s planned utopian suburban environment, Buhrich’s house was built onto an existing Griffin ‘knit-lock’ studio, yet proposed in deliberate detailed counterpoint. Architectural manners associated with weightlessness were coupled with those that explored connections to the earth. Elements such as the structurally and formally hybrid roof, seamlessly, inventively, connected two spatially distinct traditions; ‘mass-produced’ aluminium glazing framed a sense of continuous horizontal extension toward the water whilst timber lined sinusoidal curves formed a series of gable ends that faced the street. Both undulating and apparently flat, this externally copper clad element was materially optimised for strength and lightness. Like the ribs of clear acrylic on a chromed steel bar under glass that formed a table, or a red-hot liquid resin continuously curved bath, basin and room, all house components including furnishings were here vividly realised through Buhrich’s in-built architectural knowledge and know-how.

Text adapted from an entry by Catherine Lassen in Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design 1925-1975, Hannah Lewi and Philip Goad (2019, Thames and Hudson).

photo © Michael Wee