Indigo Slam through the eyes of the architect
When asked if Indigo Slam is the best house in the world, William laughs. He has no doubt been asked this question many times before. Smart received a phone call from Judith one day in 2012 “She said she wanted me to build a new house for her, and that she wanted it to be the best house in Sydney. She said if I was too busy she’d call Frank Gehry.” William said he knew at that point he had just been offered the chance to create something really great. Later, Judith would contact him again to say, “I’ve thought about it and since we are creating the best house in Sydney, how about the best house in Australia”. Eventually he received final advice from her – “no, the best house in the world”.
So is it the best house in the world? Arguably, yes. William said he still receives calls from Judith as she discovers new aspects of the home she’d never noticed before. It has so many thoughtful surprises that it keeps giving back still years after its build was completed.
Smart says the original brief was only three lines short, handwritten in pen as a note. What beautiful synergy a client-architect relationship can have with complete respect and the freedom to present ideas. The process of initial exterior design was a matter of presenting three design books to Judith and gauging her responses on each. The third book, on Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, was the one that caught her attention. Siza is known for “poetic modernism” and it was this stylistic approach William would adopt to then create a peel and flow system that would direct the entire build. “Cutting, folding and stitching together” is how William describes the process of bringing Indigo Slam to life and the same repetition can be seen in every element of the build, including the details.
Indigo Slam is a home intended to stand the test of time. One of the later additions to the delightfully concise design brief was that it would be built to last at least 100 years. As Smart states “it’s not designed to be replaced”. There’s no paint on the walls, they are all rendered and waxed. “All the air conditioning and lighting is not important so we diminished those” says William of the lack of gadgets you would usually find adorning the walls. The floor is bricks, designed to age much like the Japanese Wabi-Sabi approach to design – “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” And William says “they’re actually better now… they’ve worn and they gradually start to develop this lovely patina”. The bricks are laid on a diagonal to achieve a lovely patterned floor language, William says, “we wanted the material palette to be very delicate, like it was built for a lady. It has a soft, kind of delicate feel to it” it speaks to mood and ambience as well as to light and shade.
Upon entering the house, you are welcomed with 14-meter-high ceilings and a staircase you could “take a horse up”. Smart explains this was to avoid having windows looking out onto the neighbours’ homes, giving both Judith and the neighbourhood their privacy. The windows within the home do not look straight out, but rather both down and up depending on the room you are in. This allows for constant natural light and privacy as well as interesting views of the surrounding streets and trees. The wax ceilings inside bounce natural light from the outside around the house. Smart says the idea is for the journey through the house to narrow and open as you travel. These moments of large spatial areas followed by cosy cavities were created specifically to replicate this idea. Nothing is accidental. William says he once took someone in to survey the bricks before its completion and by the time he’d reached the staircase she was still at the doorway, mouth wide open. Such is the impressive nature of the interior build that it has seen Indigo Slam win over 18 awards for architectural design.
Indigo Slam is not all form and process. He says small touches, such as the armoire in the upstairs room, add domestic warmth. “We don’t do that anymore in modern architecture, no one puts a cupboard in a room” The mood is further developed by the unique, personal touches added by Judith. Although up to 16 people can be entertained at the smaller of the two dining rooms, William insists there still a cosy warmth to it. In particular, a ledge in the building’s façade that William refers to as the ‘light scoop’ bounces light off the ceiling onto the floor, creating large amounts of reflected light and filling shadows around the furnishings with more light than usual. “Usually a ceiling will look white because your brain knows it’s white but it’s not really white, whereas this ceiling is really bright… It’s a lovely feeling… you’re sometimes a bit surprised by the quality of light”, explains William. He admits that even after initial lighting tests he never knows exactly how the light and shadow will fall until he’s in the room. Indigo Slam continues to surprise him long after its completion with its brightness and warmth and he tells us “it’s unusual to get that from a façade, it’s unique”.