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  • Stephen Crafti

Just Add Water

From a pool that filters light into the level below, to custom breeze bricks that stagger the reveal of a stunning bay, architects are enhancing our connection to water in clever ways. By Stephen Crafti

A central pool and spa brings water into the heart of an award-winning home in inner Melbourne by Coy Yiontis Architects. Photography by Peter Clarke.

Water is the stuff of life — and a view of it can uplift the most dispirited of souls. Architect-designed homes take on a different quality when flanked by water, be it a swimming pool, a lap pool, a pond or simply a water feature such as a fountain. The sight of water, along with its sound, creates a soothing backdrop, transforming spaces into magical places in which to relax. For a house located next to a bay, a river, a lake or the ocean, the combination of the human-made and natural bodies of water creates an even more transportive environment — one that holds your attention throughout the day and well into the evening.


The home of architects Rosa Coy and George Yiontis, directors of Coy Yiontis Architects, didn’t have the benefit of a bay, river, lake or ocean aspect. However, their home in the Melbourne suburb of Balaclava is certainly imbued with water — at least within the central courtyard. Their award-winning two-storey house, nestled behind a timber Victorian cottage (which forms a separate wing) features a swimming pool at the core. “We’ve been developing these courtyard typologies in our practice for many years, with several of them including swimming pools,” says Coy. 


A central pool and spa brings water into the heart of an award-winning home in inner Melbourne by Coy Yiontis Architects. Photography by Peter Clarke.

The pool in the Balaclava house is relatively modest in size, about seven metres long and tapering in width from 1.8 metres at one end to 2.7 metres at the other. However, despite its dimensions, it has significant impact in the living area (part of the original cottage) on one side of the courtyard and in the kitchen and dining area opposite. The spa, which forms part of the pool, cuts into the floorplan of the living area, making the water seem even more enmeshed in the architecture.

A passage featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and a built-in bench seat forms one edge of the pool, enhancing the connection to water. “There’s always a sense of movement across the ceilings with the reflection of the morning sun’s rays, making the spaces more animated,” says Coy. Both she and Yiontis enjoy hearing the sound of raindrops falling on the surface of the pool, a soothing soundtrack that filters through the interior spaces. 


To create a seamless flow, Coy Yiontis Architects used travertine for the floors both inside and out. With the pool enclosed on one side by a clear balustrade and framed on the other three by the house’s windows, the water feels like a part of the interior. Another benefit to having the pool at the core of the site rather than in the back garden is the enhanced sight lines and opportunity for passive surveillance when children come over for a dip. 


A pool overlooking Sydney’s Gordons Bay at GB House, by Renato D’Ettorre Architects. Photography by Mads Mogensen.

In Sydney’s Gordons Bay, GB House by Renato D’Ettorre Architects — recipient of a prestigious Wilkinson Award — benefits from the triple boon of bay, ocean and pool views. While some architects might be tempted to design a glass box with floor-to-ceiling windows on all fronts to take advantage of the outlook, D’Ettorre, working with the practice’s interior designer Belinda Brown, “curated” the watery aspects. There’s a glimpse of the bay as one heads towards the front door via a courtyard, but it’s only upon arrival at the house that the effect of water is really felt.


Breeze bricks partially screen the outlook to stagger the reveal. The large painting by artist Martine Emdur of the family swimming in the bay also beautifully sets up a feeling of plunging into water. “You could say the painting along with the breeze bricks are like a ‘teaser’ before the more expansive bodies of water are revealed,” says D’Ettorre, pointing out the double-height void in the living area bordered by the lap pool. 


From the balcony directly above, there’s a series of blues — starting from the living area’s deep blue rug, to the paler blue of the swimming pool, which leads the eye to the changing colour of the water in the bay. “The breeze bricks also help to moderate the sunlight from the east through to the north, eliminating the need for curtains or blinds, both internal or external. I also enjoy the way light reflects on water, giving it certain texture and depth,” says D’Ettorre, who compares the experience of seeing and hearing water to the mesmerising sight of flickering flames in an open fireplace. “Both take your gaze,” he says. Smeralda marble, used for some of the stair treads and the benches and a feature wall in the kitchen, evokes cascading water with its deep green hue and rich veining.


Renato D’Ettorre Architects also included a trough-like water feature in a courtyard, the sound of which permeates the kitchen and living area. And on the lowest level of GB House, where the music room and cellar can be found, is an exposed sandstone wall coated with droplets of water picked up from the stormwater system. “Water, in essence, adds life to a house, being integral to life itself,” says D’Ettorre.


Light from the deep swimming pool above infuses a subterranean steam room and Pilates space in a house in Sydney’s Birchgrove by architects Brian Zulaikha and Colebee Wright. Photography by Nicole England.

Water also features prominently in Sydney’s Birchgrove House, with the Parramatta River found at the end of the waterfront property. The two-storey Victorian house has an award-winning contemporary extension designed by architects Brian Zulaikha and Colebee Wright, previously at Tonkin Zulaikha Greer (TZG) and now directors of Studio Zawa, who worked with landscape architect Jane Irwin. 


A view out to the pool at the Birchgrove house. Photography by Nicole England.

Water can be seen once past the threshold of the house, with a swimming pool to one side of the living area. The house is oriented towards the north-west, so there’s a continual play of light on the ceilings of the open-plan kitchen and living areas. About eight by three metres in dimension, the pool is almost three metres in depth and forms part of the subterranean steam and Pilates room located below.


The large 50-millimetre-thick acrylic panels that glaze the pool also frame the lower level, allowing light from above to filter through the water and illuminate what would otherwise be a dark and cavernous space. To further reflect sunlight, the architects used small turquoise mosaic tiles to create an enchanting jewel-box effect. 


This lower level, with its built-in plinths and seating, doubles as a place to simply relax and contemplate. “Brian and I felt the area to be quite tight, built up in an urban context,” says Wright of Birchgrove. “We wanted to create more of a sense of an oasis, a retreat that’s transformed with the use of water.” 



This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eleventh edition, Page 104 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Just Add Water”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  

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