December 13 - 19, 2015: Issue 244

Richard Cole

Richard Cole completed his Bachelor of Science (Architecture) and Bachelor of Architecture degrees, both with First Class Honours, from the University of Sydney in 1990. He worked with Peter Stutchbury, Paul Berkemeier, Hassell and MFA before starting up Richard Cole Architecture in 1998. 

Richard currently tutors at the University of Sydney and is a registered architect and member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. 

In 2010 The Hilltop House won the national and regional Australian Timber Design Awards for Residential Class 1 – New Buildings.

The Angophora House, a wonderful home designed for his parents, was shortlisted for the 2013 Australian Timber Design Awards, the 2013 Houses Awards, and received a Commendation at the 2013 NSW Architecture Awards.

Many in Pittwater would associate this superlative Architect with the new Avalon Beach SLSC, a project he undertook with the equally fastidious Robert and Christine Hopton.

He has a keen interest in woodwork and fine furniture making and is also a patrolling member of Avalon Surf Life Saving Club and became President at the club’s 2015 AGM.

This week we share an insight into one of Pittwater’s quiet achievers and some of what’s coming up at Avalon Beach SLSC, apart from Santa definitely turning up to this year’s Carols on the Beach next Saturday, December 19th.

Where and when were you born?

1966 in Sydney at the Camperdown Children’s Hospital.

Where did you grow up?

On the North Shore near Pymble, we had a great house next to the bush and we’d spend a lot of time having fun there.

Did you come down to the beach much?

I did. My grandparents lived at Paradise Beach. I remember my grandad was in Column 8 once as having the best address in Australia as he was at the north end of ‘Paradise Avenue, Paradise Beach’. 

They, Ivor and Holly Stokes, had a great spot which they’d owned since the 1940’s so we’d spend most weekends there. He was a pretty interesting guy in some ways; a textile importer and exporter, he would travel to Asia a lot as part of his business. He used to get terrible migraines and had acupuncture once while in Asia and this cured him of migraines completely. He learned acupuncture while there, and massage, and came back and started practicing and teaching that in the very early days of that being known here. 

Where did you do your schooling?

At Knox and then I went on to Sydney University to study Architecture. 

Why did you choose Architecture?

I had always loved Art but also liked the Sciences and Maths and History and found in Architecture that it incorporated all of these things and you had to know about all of these things; you had to be technical, bring the art into it, and you had to know the history of architecture to know the context.

We travelled as a family quite a bit and I remember seeing the gothic cathedrals of France, these amazing buildings, and they really moved me and I felt it would be wonderful if you could contribute in some way to that endeavour. I also love the fact that you’re making something, it’s quite a tangible thing that you’re doing, and this too appeals – I love that aspect. 

You’re now doing some Tutoring at Sydney Uni –what are you teaching?

We’re teaching Construction and Technology. This is a great course which I’m contributing to, mostly for second and third year students. The students get a site and a design project and we get into the detail of how to respond to the site and how a structure gets put together and they have to document this – take it right from the initial design stage, incorporating the detailing and the specifics of environmentally responsibility. It’s good to get their feet on the ground and work out at this early stage in their career how to actually build stuff. 

What’s it like to return to your Alma Mater?

It’s great – it’s good to go somewhere and do something that’s completely theoretical. It’s also great seeing 20 completely different solutions to a problem – I think it broadens your own thinking.  It’s also good having to explain the processes of architectural design.  

It keeps it fresh and renews your own work.

Avalon Beach SLSC Clubhouse – what was the most challenging part of this for you and what were you aiming to do?

When I came onto the project we already had a DA.  Robert and Christine Hopton had already kicked off the project and Robert, through his company, had got the DA approved.  The actual form and solution to the problems were already established. I had to take that and resolve the more detailed aspects of the design, work out how to build it and finesse it into a design that would really work with the club.

Surf clubs can be really difficult projects, you have limited means, we didn’t have the budget of say, a North Bondi project to spend on it, so you have to make what I would term a big gesture – which we did with the roof. The roof is very important to the overall design of the building and we made this like a big sheltering canopy. There is this flat plane of the eave which reflects the horizon and this sits up above the structure so it’s quite light and hovering. The roof shape is also drawn from abstracted sand dunes as I think the dune is one of the most important defining elements of Avalon Beach.  We wanted to make it an extension of that so it has a low angled leading edge and a steeply sloping back edge, like the dune shaped by the onshore breezes.  Responding to the landscape, to me, is really important.

You need to open such a building to the view, you’d be crazy to deny it, but as it’s position is elevated where it cops the western sun quite a lot you need to address that too – that’s why we put those timber screens on that western side. It also had to be responsive to the number of people who would use it and what they would be using each area for – it’s not air-conditioned so we needed to capitalise on air flow, all these responsive elements needed to be addressed.

Barrenjoey High School’s community space – you have done the design for this too?

Yes, another great community project. Ian Bowsher, the Principal there, is doing a fantastic job with the school, he’s so passionate about improving standards and making the school better for all students and an integral part of the community. I have two children at the school and my son who just finished the HSC also attended Barrenjoey and Freshwater Senior Campus, so I wanted to be involved of course.  Barrenjoey has such a great Performing Arts curriculum and culture, if you have ever been to one of their MAD nights you will know what I mean, but the built infrastructure they have is just not suitable for their performances, they’re in this enormous hall.

They’re in the gym!

Exactly, this vast room is not conducive to being a great performance space. The idea is to turn this disused slot of land between two buildings into a room, a beautiful room that would work with the school hall and make better use of the space which wraps around the back of the existing stage there and have a small performance space for the kids which has good seating, good acoustics, and that can also be used as a gallery space for exhibitions and can also become a community hub so it’s not just for the school but becomes something for the wider community. 

They could rent it out and generate income to invest back into other school projects?

Exactly, and engage with the wider community at large, which I think is very important for a school and a surf club, all these institutions need to get the community in and involved in supporting them. 

This project is in its very early stages at present and is in its broad concept and funding stage at the moment and needs everyone to support it so the costs may be secured as part of the consent process.

Before we leave architecture, what are your favourite buildings and why?

Sydney Opera House would have to be one because it works on so many levels. Jørn Utzon was a genius. When you look at it it’s so much more than just an opera house or a building, it has become a cultural icon; it’s used as a billboard for events or to make a statement, such as when it had the French flag projected on to it most recently.  It’s a worldwide symbol and a poetic building and has stood the test of time – when you go to it, it still has spaces that work and work well even though it’s over 40 years old now.  I sail on the harbour most Fridays and every time I see it, it still moves me.

In terms of influence, I love Rick Leplastrier's house at Bayview; that’s an incredible house and so influential and another amazing architect – you can see he has been influenced by Utzon but the fact that he has made this building that’s hardly a building at all, with one room that’s completely open to the garden with a roof that slides back and has canvas walls, it’s such an individual and unique response and resolves and establishes a whole way of living.  It’s more than just a response to the environment that building; it’s certainly one of my favourites.

What about a historical one?

One of my favourite buildings was this small Romanesque church in Spain. My wife and I did the Camino De Santiago just after we were married where we walked for three months. One of the most beautiful buildings was the church of St Mary of Eunate in Navarra in northern Spain. This was a very quite little building which was beautifully proportioned, made of heavy stone, these little slot windows, no glass, just alabaster instead of glass that created this beautifully diffused light. It had no view, no outside presence at all – you came in from this really open landscape into this perfectly formed space.

Eunate - Navarra - Spain

Day 10 sketch Estaing

What about your own works – what is your favourite there?

One of my more recent ones was my parent’s house at Waverton, the Angophora House. This was a very difficult site, we were basically building on a cliff and between two streets, one at the top and one at the base, and this wedge shaped site in between. There were beautiful angophora trees on the site which we had to preserve and a big rock escarpment as well, both heritage areas with limited access so there were a lot of challenges. 

My parents are both in their 70’s so it had to be an accessible house for them too. They were very trusting, and it can be fraught working for family – people say ‘never work for family or lawyers’ and my father was a Royal Commissioner into the Building Industry! (laughs)

So the challenges were manifold then?

Yes, the challenges were there – it worked out well though, and they’re happy with it, which is what counts. It has the rock escarpment exposed in the rooms underneath and it’s quite a contemporary design; it has big movable walls that open up. 

Photos of Angophora House taken by photographer Simon Wood

Avalon Beach SLSC, you began there as a volunteer Nippers Age Manager?

Yes, all my children have gone through Nippers, so I began with my son Christopher who has now finished his HSC and is an Age Manager for our youngest child, Claudia.

How does she like that?

She loves it, thinks its great.  You often see him going up the beach with about 8 kids hanging off him. 

For those not familiar with being an Age Manager, what’s involved?

It’s running the kids group on a Sunday, running the children through the swim and the boards, doing flags and sprints and getting them involved, pushing their capabilities of what they think they can do and teaching them surf skills and safety in a fun environment.  It’s fantastic for the Age Managers because they get to see kids go from Under 6’s through to teenagers when they do their Surf Rescue Certificate and then their Bronze Medallion. It’s quite amazing to see these little kids develop into capable young adults and you get to know them well over the years, so it’s very rewarding.

What do you think surf life saving gives to them?

I think it gives them skills for life, it certainly gives them confidence in the water. It’s also a great way for them to mix too- a lot of sports are boys only or girls only and this provides an opportunity for them to work together. It’s social too as they do a lot of other activities apart from that done on the beach, particularly in the older groups.

Most importantly, they learn how to save a life, they learn all the First Aid and CPR, so that too is a great Life Skill to have.

You have taken on the Presidency too, a lot of work involved there – how did this occur?

Christine Hopton approached me to do this, she had been president for 8 years, which is an incredible achievement and had seen the club through a huge transformation, not only through the whole building of the new clubhouse process but she also took Avalon Beach SLSC from quite a small membership to a much larger community membership, secured great sponsors and made the club far more dynamic and inclusive.  I worked closely with Christine through the building process and we got to know each other well.  When she approached me I certainly had a think about it as it is a demanding role and a challenge fitting this in with everything else, family life, work, everything else I’ve taken on, but it’s also a great honour to be able to do this and I will do my best to contribute and take the club forward.  We also had Leanne Austin come on board as administrator, which is the first time we’ve had an actual administrator doing a lot of the day to day work so that has taken a huge load off, she’s fantastic.

What’s coming up at Avalon Beach SLSC – Carols by the Sea would be next?

Yes, there’s a lot coming up the next few months. There will be the 20 Beaches on Saturday 12th December, which Avalon Beach SLSC Members help out at by providing volunteers at either end and water safety as well as a Barbecue for participants when done. Brett Greenwood, a former Club Captain of ours and who runs the Lion Island Challenge, is also part of this event which is part of the Ocean Series of paddles. The 20 Beaches is celebrating its 25th year this December and attracts more than 300 people to be part of this great offshore race.

The Carols by the Sea on December 19th will be happening the Saturday afterwards and these are hosted by Avalon Beach SLSC. This is a great way to relax into the Christmas week.

Is Santa really going to turn up again this year Richard?

Yes, Santa is really going to be part of the Carols by the Sea this year again. We’ve had a chat to him and he has guaranteed he’s going to be there.

We’ll also have some great ‘Heroes’ for the kids to meet, wonderful singing by the 80 strong Rock’n Soul Choir who will lead some great classics and contemporary carols for families.  There is also a huge food fair with 15 stalls and a great range of delicious food on offer and to finish off the evening a huge fireworks display. 

Then you have a Swim in December and an Ocean Swim on January 17th?

The Doug Crane Classic is held every December and named to honour Life Member Doug Crane. This is our annual Club swim, which everyone gets involved in. We also have club swims every Sunday which Tim Hixson runs.

Then we have the Avalon Swim on January 17 as part of the Pittwater Swim Series. 2016 will be our 24th Avalon Swim. This is a swim on a course out from and back to Avalon Beach.

What are you looking forward to this summer?

Some great weather!

Besides that, we’re concentrating on our patrols at Avalon Beach SLSC this Summer, that’s our core business and the reason why we’re out on the beach. There has been a bit of a management shift in terms of the Senior and the Junior club in recent years. Pim John van Gestel has taken over as the Nippers President and they’re offering training sessions virtually every day, they’re doing fantastic things there.

We’re also keeping a strong focus on our Youth Program for our young adults – we hope to keep our kids as part of the club after they finished Nippers and before they can do full-on Patrols and are trying to ensure we provide a lot of activities for them through our Cadet Program and our Rookie Program. Mike Stanley Jones has been leading there and ensuring there’s events and activities the older kids can gain something from and enjoy what they’re doing.

We’re also adding a few things to what we do on the beach this Summer – we’re hoping to do a Club 200 event on the beach early next year and hopefully another Avalon Beach Stomp to wrap up the Season next year.

What are your favourite places in Pittwater and why?

Well, Avalon Beach obviously…

I love the fact that it’s still a bit of a secret in some ways form the rest of Sydney; I think a lot of people bypass it – they stop at Newport or they keep going to Palm Beach or turn off to Whale Beach. 

It’s still very much a local community beach, it has great surf, and is contained in its landscape. It’s a fantastic space – I love the fact that you can be out in the water and look back and there’s just the dunes and the green hilltops rising behind them, there’s a harmony there that has been kept. It’s still quite undeveloped, still a beautiful spot, and still relatively uncrowded – you can go for a swim early in the morning and there’s still only a few people out.

I also like taking off to the western shores of Pittwater. We used to have a tinny and take off quite often. I love Morning Bay. Sometimes when the kids have finished school we’d just pile everyone in the tinny and take off over there and have a picnic on the beach over there – it’s just beautiful.

This doesn’t seem to happen now the kids are older and have ten million things going on, each!

What is your motto for life or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

I try to not let an opportunity pass me by and that was part of the reason behind taking up the presidency – there are a lot of reasons not to do it, but I think you don’t often get offered an opportunity like that and it’s good to challenge yourself, to meet such challenges, whenever they present themselves. 

I really love these community organisations and institutions – these are so rewarding in so many ways and the people who get involved are just fantastic; it’s an honour to know them and work beside them to do something for everyone else. 

At SLS SNB Surf Boat Premiership hosted by Warriewood SLSC 5.12.2015 with Avalon Beach SLSC U23's 

Copyright Richard Cole, 2015.