Inserted between a century old brick warehouse and a row of Victorian terrace houses on what was once a small carpark, the Beehive refuses an immediate reading at first sight. Upon approach, the use of stacked terracotta tiles in the façade is revealed, reconfigured into a rhythmic Brise-soleil. The project explores the perceived limitations of terracotta tiles and celebrates the layers of filigree and geometric complexity that can be found in the overlooked terracotta tile. Utilising recycled materials from the start rather than an afterthought, the terracotta tile was chosen as it is a ubiquitous material without an established reuse market. The project is a celebration of the immediacy and the unpredictability of creation using what is discarded or found rather than new materials, by creating a new bricolage that demonstrate how waste products can be reimagined and reused with minimal energy.
The project started with the study of material waste streams for an appropriate object for a brise-soleil to filter the harsh western sun that the main façade faces. The humble terracotta tile was chosen as it is an overlooked material without adequate reuse market. While out of manufacture tiles are collected, newer tiles have no market value and find their way to landfill.
Material reuse has near zero embodied energy and hence is a very important step at reducing construction impact. This project attempts to add value to reused materials and change the public often negative perception of material reuse. Putting aside the tiles commonality, the terracotta tile appealed because of its raw elemental materiality, with no tile exactly alike, cast in clay and fired still by hand.
The process of design was also unique for this building. In response to an object which was geometrically complex, the façade design was largely conceived through multiple full scale tests and prototypes. This opened up a rudimentary form of designing through making. The intuitive tactility of the process allowed rapid prototyping, experimenting with multiple tile course types.
This design process allowed us to make of the use of the module to further tackle challenging elements of the design and resolve them physically. Such as the curved tile façade, which was crucial to give the façade proportion within its built context by linking its misaligned neighbouring buildings and stepping back from the paperbark tree in front of the site.
Internally, the building is a light-filtered architecture studio designed as an environment to stimulate creativity and teamwork: a ‘Beehive’ of architects. Challenging the generic and often alienating nature of open plan office buildings, the design sought to provide an active but intimate environment with multiple working positions offered by custom-built joinery, which was largely repurposed from the former studio, another component of the upcycling drive on this project. The main space does not have any walls, rather is defined by two linear rows of semi-enclosed booths with each architect provided with two desks, linked by a long linear standing bench which facilitates collaborative work.
On the top floor, a communal garden terrace offers a point of release to work in the sunshine, hold community events or relax after a long day. Below, the conference table is semi-enclosed by terracotta tile bookshelf, another variation of a stacked terracotta module. This was a conscious attempt to re-contextualise the value of reusing materials, advocating for more sustainable solutions and showing clients and the wider public that it is possible to reuse the waste products of the construction process, with all their intrinsic beauty.
Location: City of Sydney, Surry Hills, NSW
Design Architect: Raffaello Rosselli Studio
Project Architect: Raffaello Rosselli
Project Team: Jeffrey Blewett, Lluis Molins Calvet, Luigi Rosselli
Client: Luigi Rosselli Architects
Builder: Jim Miliotis for GroundUp Building Pty Ltd
Façade construction: Callum Coombe
Landscape Architect: William Dangar Associates
Joiner: Maluva Joinery Pty Ltd
Custom brass lighting: Oliver Tanner
Structural & Hydraulic Consultant: Charles Blunt for Rooney & Bye (Australia) Pty Ltd
Photography: Prue Ruscoe Ben Hosking Raffaello Rosselli