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Contemporary apartment building in Sydney designed with parametric modelling

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Fluid, undulating sandstone and metal exterior to Eliza Apartments in Sydney, designed by Tony Owen Partners Architects

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It's rare for architects to get the opportunity to design a new benchmark building in the inner city, so when a prime park-side site became available in Sydney's Elizabeth Street, there was intense interest in the development.

And architect Tony Owen did not disappoint. With a design he describes as challenging, Owen set out to push the boundaries using parametric design tools to create a sustainable, new landmark for the CBD.

"While this was always going to be a very contemporary apartment building, it still needed to sit within the historic context of the location," Owen says. "The site is opposite St Andrews Cathedral and close to the Great Synagogue and the Sheraton Hotel, all fine examples of Sydney's beautiful heritage architecture."

The building – Eliza Apartments – consequently presents a contemporary expression of the principles embodied in the surrounding buildings, including the traditional bay window common to buildings in Elizabeth and Macquarie Streets.

"Traditional contextual materials, such as sandstone and steel, are also used in a modern and challenging way," the architect says. "We utilised parametric 3-D computer modelling to mould the facade to the changing environmental conditions on the skin. The profile of every level is different, as the design responds to the differing unit plans, views and sun on each level."

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Owen says digital technology made it cost effective to create different plans and specifications for each of the 17 levels.

"We now have the tools to create complex geometric forms that are as affordable as traditional designs. The technology is there to push the limits.

"For this project we used Meyer software and Rhino scripting to determine the design, with the Frank Gehry Digital studio assisting in the fabrication geometry. The computer drawings were sent straight to the builder who used routing robots to laser cut the hundreds of tessellated, individually shaped metal and sandstone panels."

Owen says the technology enabled the design team to create a highly sculptural, fluid facade, with a design he calls "liquid architecture." It is a bold, curvaceous contrast to the egg-crate box style of architecture that has typified Sydney's apartment buildings in recent years.

The geometry of the curving bays of the front facade gradually changes as the building rises, with the three-level penthouse stepped back to maximise the sun and views.

"We took the geometry right down to the ground, with a protruding metal canopy over the entry," says the architect. "The neighbouring buildings tend to have a decorative solid sandstone podium, so we created a similarly detailed podium."

The tessellated motif continues in the lobby, which features a long, sculpted sandstone wall that curves to form the ceiling. The motif also appears in mirrored timber screens in lift lobbies, and at the rear of the building, in a 10-storey green wall.

"This glazed living wall, on the north side of the building, creates a pleasant outlook for bedrooms at the rear," says Owen. "It also lets plenty of natural light and sun."

The living areas and master bedrooms all have panoramic park or harbour views – or both. These are accentuated by the curve of the large balconies and balustrading. The balconies act as a climate buffer zone for each apartment. The doors can be opened partially to capture the breeze, or opened fully to extend the size of the living area.

In keeping with the brief from developer Ceerose, no expense was spared on the interior. Fixtures and fittings are of a particularly high standard, and include C-Bus lighting, limestone floors, dark-stained wood panelling and cabinetry, and a fireplace set within a bronzed mirror wall. Some kitchens have a butler's pantry and a separate preparation area for catering purposes.

Special features of the penthouse include a marble staircase, pool and roof terrace.

Edward Doueihi of Ceerose says the building is destined to become a contemporary classic that will shake up design standards in the city.

"We wanted Eliza to stand out and it does," he says. "Nothing in this building is off-the-shelf. It has all been custom built. It has been a labour of love for us, but is the best endorsement for quality and attention to detail that our company could have."

First published date: 21 August 2014

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Credit List

Project Eliza Apartments, Sydney
Architect Tony Owen with Esan Rahmani, Gerardo Oiz, Claudio Porly, Michael Civovic, Benny Ng, Wendy Tong, Raymond Ng, Diana Quintero Saul, Tony Owen Partners Architects, Sydney
Developer Ceerose
Structural engineer M+G Consulting
Mechanical and electrical engineer Cardno ITC
Landscaping Site Landscape
Facade panels Advanced Precast (Aust)
Facade structure Micos Glass; Aluminium Facade Solutions
Facade sandstone Stoneplus NSW
Lobby and balcony floor tiles Marble
Lobby walls Sandstone
Apartment floor tiles Limestone