The Beachcomber

Beachcomber mk II House' Lend Lease brochure,1964 . Not to be reproduced without permission.  Designer Suburbs.

One of the nice things about a museum project going public is the response from people with relevant artefacts, stories, photographs etc. Often this can be frustrating – if only we had known about this before the exhibition was opened, book was launched etc!

I’ve already had a couple of these experiences with the Designer Suburbs book. Shortly after a story about ‘Designer Suburbs’ appeared in ‘Powerline’, I was contacted (via Skye Mitchell of the PHM) by Ruby Matthews, proud owner of a Beachcomber house built at Killarney Heights in 1965.

The Beachcomber was one of the first architect-designed project homes. Ruby loaned me her photos and promo material from its builder Lend Lease Homes. You can see some of Ruby’s photos here, tracing the construction of her Beachcomber.

Courtesy Ruby Matthews.

Courtesy Ruby Matthews.

Although it looks simple and unsophisticated, the Beachcomber is a demonstration of Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture, formulated during the 1920s and embodied in famous designs including the Villa Stein and the Villa Savoye. As Corb’s basic principles for modern architecture stipulate, the Beachcomber is elevated above the ground (so as not to waste the space it is built on, and maximise exposure to light and air), has a flat roof (flat roofs do not dictate the floor plan below and hence became a Modernist signature), an independent structural system permitting open plan living spaces, and windows running horizontally across the main facades.

Spot the difference. Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Photo by Charles Pickett.

Spot the difference. Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Photo by Charles Pickett.

The Beachcomber was designed by Nino Sydney, who came to Australia from Croatia in 1954. His architecture studies at the University of Zagreb were not recognised here but within a few years he had an architecture degree from the University of Sydney and an architect’s job with new development company Lend Lease. In 1961 Lend Lease Homes opened Sydney’s first display village of architect-designed project homes at Carlingford. The Beachcomber was one of five Lend Lease designs on display; the others were the Cabana, Regal, Golden Key and the Pan Pacific.

Recently Nino spoke at a Sydney Architecture Festival event to celebrate his authorship of the Beachcomber. He began by acknowledging his design debt to Le Corbusier, pointing out that the Beachcomber was designed as ‘an affordable version of the Villa Savoye’, a house designed for a millionaire. Nino was critical of some features of the famous house, considering its spiral staircase an indulgence and the ramp to the roof garden as a ‘ramp to nowhere’. The Beachcomber does not feature a roof garden

Courtesy Ruby Matthews.

Courtesy Ruby Matthews.

During the 1960s Lend Lease Homes built about 200 Beachcomber houses, but they also inspired numerous similar structures especially in coastal locations. They stand out from most designer project homes of the 60s and 70s in a number of ways including aluminium cladding, in 1961 an innovative material. Beachcombers were also ahead of the norm with insulated roofs and walls, which combines with a shaded sun deck and cross-ventilation to make Beachcombers comfortable year round.

You might have seen a story in the Sydney Morning Herald recently about the Beachcomber. In recent years the Beachcomber has become a cult object among enthusiasts for mid-century modernism. Last year Nino Sydney was guest of honour at an event celebrating the Beachcomber’s 50th birthday, while this website is devoted to the Beachcomber and its followers.

‘Beachcomber mk II House’ Lend Lease Homes brochure,1964. Courtesy Ruby Matthews.

‘Beachcomber mk II House’ Lend Lease Homes brochure,1964. Courtesy Ruby Matthews.

This article was originally published in inside the collection blog.