Woolley House | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

Woolley House

Item details

Name of item: Woolley House
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: House
Location: Lat: -33.8157801398 Long: 151.2408917360
Primary address: 34 Bullecourt Avenue, Mosman, NSW 2088
Parish: Willoughby
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Mosman
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT69 DP1034779
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
34 Bullecourt AvenueMosmanMosmanWilloughbyCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
 Private 

Statement of significance:

The Woolley House in its setting is an important early example of the work of Ken Woolley, one of Australia's leading architects since the early 1960s. It is an extremely important example of the 'Sydney School' of architecture, using natural materials, stepping down a steeply sloping site. It became an important influence of later houses across Australia, but most particularly in Sydney. A key part of the aesthetic and historic heritage values of the Woolley House as a Sydney School house and garden is its sloping, bush covered, ie: treed site, and its informality, it appearing almost as if the house has been 'dropped down into' a natural bush setting. Valuing such blocks and seeking to create 'bush garden settings' was an integral part of this 'School'.
Date significance updated: 01 Jun 15
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Ken Woolley
Builder/Maker: Pettit, Sevitt and Partners
Construction years: 1962-1962
Physical description: Site:
The house is located on a steep hillside, covered with large rocks, trees and ferns and that originally looked out over Middle Harbour. Now, almost 40 years after construction, the site's trees have grown and screen the view.

A key part of the heritage values of the Woolley House as a Sydney School house and garden is its sloping, bush covered, ie: treed site, and its informality, it appearing almost as if the house has been 'dropped down into' a natural bush setting. To some degree the current natural appearance is the result of Woolley's neglect of the block and natural or bird-induced seed regeneration. To some degree it is due to sympathetic current owners having planted native species and nurtured a sympathetic 'bush' setting, albeit with some exotic shade-loving plants such as Begonia spp.

The site is full of winding paths, small and some larger stone retaining walls. Some of these were built by landscape architect Bruce McKenzie, working with Woolley at the time of construction. These and some early plantings McKenzie made, are rare examples of a private job: McKenzie is better known for his large public projects (pers.comm., Ken Woolley; Stuart Read, 13/10/11).

House:
The design derives from an idea of garden terraces, most of which are covered by sections of timber roof which slope parallel to the land.

A geometric discipline was imposed on the plan, the basis of the which is a series of 12 foot square units, several of which combine to form the main central space. The main bedroom, bathroom and kitchen units open from this central space.

The individual units step sideways and downwards across the slope and the roof sections follow, creating narrow rooflights which serve to make the roof float over the living areas.

Each unit steps aside 4 feet (one third its width) to follow the contours of the land, and the same proportion is used to separate the units vertically.

The building's external walls, and several internal walls (which create screens and balustrades which divide the flowing interior) are of clinker brick. The palate of materials is kept to a minimum and was selected to define the individual elements of the structure and its infill. Internally, the structural frame of sawn hemlock is visible. Infill panels are of oiled tallowwood.

Ventilation is provided by the means of solid timber panels which have insect screens fitted externally. The concrete floors were originally covered with cork and matting. The cork remains, but the matting has been replaced with carpet.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Archaeological potential is low. The building and its garden setting are in excellent condition, having been carefully maintained by the current owners.
Date condition updated:03 Jan 01
Modifications and dates: The building is in near original condition. All maintenance and repair works has been carried out in consultation with the original architect.
Further information: The Woolley House was the recipient of the RAIA NSW Chapter Wilkinson Award in 1962, the highest award for housing in New South Wales.

THE FORMER WOOLLEY HOUSE, MOSMAN.
Text copyright 2004 - Ken Woolley
Publications about the Mosman House have approached it mainly from its suggested role in the Sydney School, focussing on its design character, materials and siting. I am sometimes quoted as referring to its theme of garden terraces stepping down a hillside, with a sloping roof pulled apart by staggering the terraces and by mentioning direct detailing and references to bungalow-style houses. Robin Boyd used the house as an example of Sydney School, which he described as a 'tamed, romantic kind of Brutalism'. In acknowledging that as being perhaps more perceptive than he intended, or as others have taken it, I have shown that it is not a straight example of the "New Brutalism" any more than it relates to the designs of other architects whose work, while influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, is also included in the notion of Sydney School. At the time, I frankly referred aspects of the Mosman House to the Bungalow Style, of which there were many fine examples on hillsides, in Mosman. In doing so, referring to connections to the past, I was running counter to mainstream Modernism, as were architects elsewhere and from whom the Post Modem thinking emerged. I refer particularly to Moore, Esherick, Stirling, Venturi.

At the time, I was reluctant to assert any such thing as a Sydney School, firstly because there was no such group consciously attempting to create a consistent movement. There was a diverse group called the Architectural Society whose members included some architects later referred to as Sydney School. Among the members were some, including me, who had a strong attraction to directness in detail and natural materials without artifice. Those ideas are, of course relative. They were partly a reaction to orthodox modernism, the international Style and to the leading architects of the day. A sub-group, you might say, was the team in Harry Rembert's design room at the NSW Government Architect's Office. We produced a manifesto (unpublished) called Natural Materialism, which was partly wry wit and partly a serious proposal that all materials in building should be expressed in a way that was natural to them, not just that they be unadorned.

The Mosman House represents my thoughts of late 1961. Concurrent work was the State Office Block documentation, the construction detailing and interiors of Fisher Library, the Kingsdene exhibition (at Carlingford) and the early Pettit and Sevitt houses.

The house is designed on a grid of 4 feet and a larger structural grid of 12 feet. The 12 feet square units are staggered in plan by 1/3 stepping back along the contours.

The large grid and its section set up a rhythm like a beat in music, around which a composition of infill elements is composed. While a range of elements is selected, consisting of large glass sheets, small screened ventilation panels, triangular and rectangular boarded infills and sliding doors, in each case of infilling the frame, the particular function of the location creates a variation. The intention is complexity within an ordered discipline.

This was my first use of clinker brick. I had seen it used in a building at Sydney University by Fowell Jarvis and MacClurcan in which the texture was maximised, with projecting lumps and raked joints. Clinker bricks were rejects dumped or used for fill by brickyards because their uneven size and colour made brick laying difficult. But to me, they had texture and colour equivalent to old brick work in Europe and America and they were incredibly inexpensive.

I determined they would be selected by the bricklayers for the relatively smooth side, minimising the texture and enabling the joints to be cut flush and showing a range of beautiful colours.

At the top, however, I used bluelblack bricks which were still being made for repairs to liver-brick bungalow-style houses. These were very uniform and provided a pleasant seat or shelf. . Off-form concrete also appears on the stairs and external terraces.
The main frame, posts and rafters of the house and the roof decking are of Canadian Pine - similar to Oregon but paler. The window frames, doors and external infill boarding is sawn Tallowwood, internally it is dressed.

All the timber was finished either clear or with a black and umber natural oil stain.

The top level- kitchen, entry, dining room and laundry have cork tiles. The lowest floor is Tallowwood.

The main living space is unusually large for a relatively modest size house. The roofs are a kind of pantile, terracotta with a bluish/brown glaze. The reflections and shadows on this roof, the soft textured rose, brown and grey of the bricks and the dark stained boarding are seen through a screen of angophora trees, which vary through the season from soft grey to orange.
Current use: Residence
Former use: Residence

History

Historical notes: The block on which the Woolley House is built was a subdivision of the adjoining land at 11 Bickel Road, Mosman which was approved by Mosman Municipal Council on 26 August 1958. Another block north of the Woolley House's block (the current 34A Bullecourt Avenue) was similarly subdivided off 11 Bickell Road.

11 Bickell Road is an attractive verandahed 2 storey Federation bungalow on a large sloping, sandstone terraced site which has been densely planted over much of the 20th century. In the 1950s this large garden won prizes. Late in the 20th century a swimming pool and tennis court replaced some of the lower garden near Bay Street. Jacaranda (J.mimosifolia), Sydney red gum (Angophora costata) and sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)and dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) are among the mature trees on this site. The steeper section at the north/rear was more natural with some large Sydney red gums and regrowth on it. It is this latter section which was subdivided off to create the Woolley House's lot in 1958.

The Woolley House is an example of Ken Woolley's early work before joining Ancher, Mortlock and Murray in 1964. Ken Woolley had designed the State Office Block for the Government Architect's Office, as well as Fisher Library at the University of Sydney*.

At the time of the house's construction, Sydney had been developed to certain boundaries and most of the flat building sites had been exhausted. Developers therefore set their sights on land previously considered unfit for building (such as the steep bushland on which the Woolley House is built). A new house type that accepted that the land sloped was required for such sites. The split level form minimised the amount of excavation and filling that was required for construction.

This requirement led to amazingly spatially dynamic forms, space vertically through the interiors as well as horizontally. Internal spaces were staggered, a unique approach, and stepped down the sites so that sightlines could angle down and views could be achieved from remote areas of the house. Materials often used were quarry tiles, western red cedar boarding and panelling, clinker or sandstock bricks, polished timber floors, sawn and unfinished timbers. Colour schemes were typically neutral internally to allow the materials and spaces to speak for themselves.

Living spaces were generally open plan, connected but articulated by changes of ceiling height, changes of direction and screening with fittings or elements of the plan. The clever and complex manipulation of space meant that floor areas could be tight while maximising the feeling of space in the house. Visual separation was often achieved by arranging lines of sight to wholly or partially conceal some views (such as views of the kitchen from the living area). Decks and terraces which opened the interior to the exterior were common. Small bedrooms were generally chosen to allow living areas to be maximised.

This style of house became known as the Sydney School, and was used across Australia, but predominantly along the eastern seaboard, mainly around Sydney. This style offered charming and intimate spaces, beautifully crafted with naturally finished materials. It really only became possible at the end of the 1950s to use more interesting building materials as war time difficulties were at an end. Clinker bricks were imperfect and suited the aesthetic of the Sydney School, which was in part a revisiting of the Californian Bungalow aesthetic.

The design ideas were quite radical in one way, but the scale of the spaces and the palate of materials was very warm and human. The Woolley house and the other examples at the time were highly influential and affected the designs of many other contemporary houses, both one-off designs and, more directly, the project homes Ken Woolley went on to design for progressive housing developers, Pettit and Sevitt.

The stone retaining walls in the steep and undulating garden were laid by landscape architect Bruce McKenzie who also did some planting. McKenzie was a pioneer among early landscape practitioners of what would become known as the Sydney school, seeking to enhance Sydney's bush, bring it into gardens or bolster its condition in new development. He would go on to many large public jobs such as the UTS Lindfield / Ku-Ring-Gai campus (former Lindfield TAFE), Botany Bay Foreshore Reserve and others. Examples of McKenzie's private garden work are rare (pers.comm., Ken Woolley; Stuart Read, 13/10/11).

The current owners bought the house in 1985 and have retained the bush setting, encouraging regeneration of native species.

In 2014 a plaque was placed on the house, below its Wilkinson Award plaque, to commemorate former owner Yuana Hesketh who lived here from 1985 until 2014, created the garden as it now is and was devoted to the house's conservation. The owner has arranged to bequeath the property to the University of New South Wales to be used as a residence for visiting academics.

* Ken Woolley (1933-2015):
Ken Woolley died in late 2015. His designs for the University of Sydney's Chemistry School and St. Margaret's Hospital chapel, done when he was 22, are heritage-listed. Before he was 30 he had completed a number of famous Sydney buildings, including the University of Sydney's Fisher Library, the State Office Block on the corner of Macquarie and Bent Streets (demolished in 1997 for Aurora Place), the Woolley House in Mosman, the Lidcombe Hospital Recreation Hall and Chapel and the first Pettit & Sevitt project home houses. Woolley went to University of Sydney through a traineeship from the NSW Public Works Department that paid the fees and an allowance, with holiday employment and a five year contract after graduation. He graduated in 1955 with first class honours in architecture and the University Medal. He was awarded the Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship for 1955, working in London for Chamberlin Powell and Bon, in the midst of discussion about modernism and the International style. The Smithsons, New Brutalism and New Liberty styles were part of this discourse. He travelled to FInland in the north, Italy and Spain in the south, visiting prominent architects and buildings of the day.

In 1964 Woolley went into partnership with Ancher Mortlock Murray, and on to a career including over 6000 dwelling units and production houses and his own three Wilkinson Award-winning homes. The early years of the practice saw the individual partners doing their own thing, but with time and retirements Woolley became sole principal and design director of Ancher Mortlock Woolley in 1982 and from then on much of the firm's work carried his stamp. He saw himself as a late modernist, invludenced in various ways by Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and attuned to the development of regionalism, New Brutalism, the theoretical aspects of post-modernism and reattachment to traditions.

His works in the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Parramatta Federal Courts, the ADFA Cadets' Mess, several student union buildings on universities, wharf-side Navy buildings of Garden Island, the Park Hyatt Hotel, Sydney Town Hall House and Sydney Square (between the Town Hall and St. Andrew's Cathedral), the ABC Radio and Goossens Hall - first section of the ABC's Ultimo headquarters, Australia's pavilion at Expo '88, the State Library of Victoria (extension), the Olympics 2000 sports halls, the Agricultural Society Dome and the Hockey Stadium at Homebush and Sydney Airport Control Tower. He designed the new Large Theatre at Sydney Opera House.

In the 21st century came the latest refurbishment of the Queen Victoria Building, an effort at revival of the Pettit & Sevitt houses and other collaborative projects with his former practice, Ancher Mortlock Woolley. He was a visiting professor at University of NSW and University of Sydney and chaired or was a member on various award, review and competition juries. Woolley was interested in architectural theory and was working on a book, 'People in Glass Houses' about the key point in Modernist architecture, around 1930, when he died.

Woolley was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1988, awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1993 and elected a fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 2001. He received the Centennary Medal in 2003 for services to structural engineering. In 2010 he was awarded a Doctorate of Science in Architecture honoris causa by the University of Sydney, where he was an adjunct professor of the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning (Woolley & Veitch, 2015, 49).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes demonstrating styles in landscape design-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing professional people-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Building in response to natural landscape features.-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - late 20th Century Sydney Regional-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Creating an icon-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Landscaping - 20th c bush garden style-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Designing in an exemplary architectural style-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Bruce Mackenzie, landscape architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with King George V-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Woolley House is an early and classic example of the Sydney School, a movement which was emerging at the time of the building’s construction.
The building has a strong association with Ken Woolley and is a very important example of his early work, demonstrating his young and idealistic vision. It is an example of Ken Woolley’s early work before joining Ancher, Mortlock and Murray in 1964. The site is also a rare example of the garden design (private v public) of landscape architect Bruce McKenzie, a key practitioner in the Sydney School of landscape architecture of that era.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The site has strong associations with architect Ken Woolley and landscape architect Bruce McKenzie
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The house was a prototype that crystallised theories which were developing at the time. It was soon discovered that it was a style that could be mass produced as it was modular, economic and honest in its use and expression of materials, in that it didn’t rely on covering up the construction which made economic as well as aesthetic sense.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Woolley House has a high degree of technical / research significance because of the fine-detailing and techniques used in its construction.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The house is one of a small group of ‘one off’ designs for ‘Sydney School’ houses by Ken Woolley. It is also a rare example of the private garden design and construction work of landscape architect Bruce McKenzie, better known for large public projects
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The house is highly representative of the Sydney School in domestic architecture and landscape architecture, popular during the 1960s and 1970s.
Integrity/Intactness: The building is in near original condition and thus has a high degree of integrity.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0151425 May 01 892939
Local Environmental Planhouse 23 Feb 01 41 
Royal Australian Institute of Architects register  06 Aug 02   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenApperley, Richard and Lind, Peter 444 Sydney Buildings
WrittenArchitecture in Australia1963Wilkinson Award, 1962: Architects Own House, 34 Bullecourt Ave, Mosman
WrittenMcKay, Boyd and Stretton, Mant1971Living and Partly Living
WrittenRichard Lamb & Associates Consulting2001Independent Assessment - impact of proposed development at 34A Bullecourt Avenue Mosman on 34 Bullecourt Avenue Mosman "The Woolley House"
WrittenRoyal Australian Institute of Architects2000State Heritage Inventory form
WrittenSaunders, David and Burke, Catherine1976Ancher, Mortlock, Murray, Woolley; Sydney Architects 1946-1976
WrittenSowden, Harry et al1969Towards an Australian Architecture
WrittenSusan Wyndham2003The Battle of Bullecourt Ave (SMH article)
WrittenTaylor, Jennifer1990Australian Architecture Since 1960
WrittenWoolley, Ken & Veitch, Harriet2015Ken Woolley 1933-2015 - Early-onset atheist left mark on city architecture' (obituary)

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5001274
File number: 10/3727; H00/00426


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