Sam Crawford Architects – Australia’s Best Architects

Profile of the Australian architecture firm Sam Crawford Architects.

Business NameSam Crawford Architects
Famous ProjectBundeena Beach House

About Sam Crawford Architects

Established in 1999, Sam Crawford Architects is a young, innovative, design-driven practice, focused primarily on residential design – and more recently, on community projects.

We have extensive experience in heritage conservation, interior and furniture design.

We approach each brief, each client and each site as a unique opportunity and believe that successful buildings, whether large or small, are designed to enrich people’s lives and the quality of their environment.

We have now completed over 20 houses. An apartment building is now under construction.

Our largest project to date is a 500sqm Youth Centre for children orphaned by AIDS in Malawi, East Africa. Expected completion June 2008.

Principal, Sam Crawford is also director of Architects Without Frontiers, Australia, an organization committed to providing architecture to disadvantaged communities throughout the world.

Awards & Competitions

  • 2006 – Royal Australian Institute of Architects – Colorbond® Steel Award for the Bundeena Beach House
  • 2006 – Royal Australian Institute of Architects – Commendation – Single Housing New for the Bundeena Beach House
  • 2005 – Australian Timber Design Awards – Winner Residential Class 1 – Open for the Bundeena Beach House
  • 2005 – Australian Timber Design Awards – Highly Commended – Major Award for the Bundeena Beach House
  • 2005 – Canberra Biennial – Temporary Dwelling, Changing Dimensions of Living 1 of 2 selected for construction – Flatpack Disaster Relief Housing
  • 2003 – Royal Australian Institute of Architects – Architecture Award – Single Housing New for the Substation House – in association with Emili Fox
  • 2002 – Australian Timber Design Awards – Winner Residential Class 1 – entrants under 30 for the Avalon Beach House – in association with Emili Fox

The office is currently made up of 3 project architects + design director, Sam Crawford.

Famous Project by Sam Crawford

Bundeena Beach House

“The elemental use of steel and timber, and a clear expression of surface and junction, echo the immediate natural and historic built environment.” says Sam Crawford Architects on their design for Bundeena Beach House.

Project details

  • Project Name: Bundeena Beach House
  • Client: Undisclosed
  • Project Type: House
  • Principal Designer/s: Sam Crawford Architects
  • Design Team: Sam Crawford, Jonathan Moore, Jane Silcock, Jolyon Sykes
  • Contractor/s: Premier Waterproofing
  • Date of commencement of project: March 2002
  • Date of completion of project: November 2004
  • Location of site: Bundeena Beach, NSW, Australia
  • Site Area: 794 sq m
  • Built-up Area: 160 sq m

Words from Sam Crawford Architects

The house is sited on the dune fronting Horderns Beach, at Bundeena, on the northern edge of the Royal National Park, on Sydney’s southern edge. It is a fragile place, commanding particular sensitivity from an architect.

The house is raised off the ground, set on steel posts driven into the dune, braced against a north-easterly sea swell that can, at times, send a surge of energy through the dune and into the building fabric. Thus, the house is designed to be both strong, and flexible – built of a composite steel/ timber frame, clad in rough sawn plywood and corrugated iron.

Each room provides a framework for a different set of experiences.

The living rooms are positioned on the dune ridge to make the most of the stunning view. On the beach side a breezeway room sits protected from the morning glare of the water by operable timber louvered walls – and on the bush side, an open deck sits protected from a sometimes bracing breeze.

The main bedroom is perched above the living rooms, well back from the beach for privacy, commanding 360 degree views, of the beach, the bay, the bush and the hamlet of Bundeena. Another bedroom and an office on the ground floor are accessed via an open, roofed timber walkway – gently forcing visitors and occupants to experience the elements.

For the client, a naturopath, it is at once a beach house, a home, a place of work, and a threshold to the surrounding environment.

The building is a reflection of the client’s personal relationship to the site.

Her brief was fairly straight-forward. Design me a simple, unpretentious beach house that will shelter me from the weather, but otherwise allow me to experience the surrounding environment.

The site – the shifting meeting place of land and sea – is the key to this project. An authentic built form emerges from it – as well as the client’s brief and budget.

The elemental use of steel and timber, and a clear expression of surface and junction, echo the immediate natural and historic built environment.

Environment Sustainable Design

It is important to recognise that whilst some headway has been made with this project in dealing with issues of environmental sustainability, there is always more that can be done. Some planned measures have not yet been instituted. Others were considered but abandoned for budgetary or other reasons.

The most obvious measures that have been implemented include natural cross-ventilation to each room, orientation of spaces and protection of openings to maximise winter solar gain and minimise summer solar gain, use of gas space and water heating in lieu of electrical, use of ceiling fans for summer cooling in lieu of air-conditioning, provision of water storage tanks to reduce town water consumption, and use of renewable and recycled materials where possible.

Other measures have been implemented as much in response to the site as for environmental reasons. They form part of the environmental strategy, and yet in another project on a different site, would not be appropriate. For instance, lightweight construction was chosen, allowing the building to sit off the ground, minimise disturbance to the site and obstruction of natural sand, water and fauna movements. On another site, in different circumstances, a slab on ground might have been more appropriate – allowing for thermal mass and passive solar heating.

The house is of modest dimensions (160sqm, 2 bedrooms + office) by today’s standards, and a single car garage only has been provided. The site has no hard-paved areas. The driveway, built of sleepers laid directly into the sand is 100% porous. The site plan incorporates a vegetable garden and chook run, reducing resource consumption and waste by a small measure.

Other measures such as grid connected solar panels and a grey water treatment system have been planned, and may yet be implemented. There are also areas where we could have done better. Though recycled, and plantation timbers have been used extensively, the method of fixing many timber elements (gluing) means that they will be difficult to recycle in the future. Some natural protective coatings, such as tung oil, have been used. However, many of protective coatings used were of relatively high toxicity.

Working towards sustainability is complex. There is much yet to be learned.

Structure, materials and construction

The choice of materials for the house was driven directly by a response to the fragile and sensitive site, and a desire to reduce the house’s ecological footprint.

Lifting the overall structure off the ground, via steel posts driven into the dune, means that the building could be braced from the movements of the ocean swell and inclement weather, while at the same time allowing the dune to shift and flow freely beneath it.

Flexibility in the bracing and structure, achieved externally from composite steel and timber framing elements and a cladding of rough-sawn plywood and Custom Orb® Zincalume® steel, and internally from Miniorb® Zincalume® and rotary cut plywood lining makes the building responsive to the site conditions.

The choice of materials was considered in terms of lifecycle cost. It should be acknowledged that the client contributed to and supported the architects’ endeavor by her encouragement (especially at the initial design stages) to incorporate sustainable design elements and techniques.


  • Text by Sam Crawford
  • Photographs by Brett Boardman

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