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Big blue skies and endless light sand: Perth’s beaches are not the usual place for sincere public architecture. Building on the beach doesn’t even happen that often. Perth’s new City Beach Surf Lifesaving Club takes a material that is often used in sincere, generic situations – simple precast concrete – and elevates it to an appropriately significant expression for this location.
The new building is an essay in precast concrete. Big panels are used to make a simple, robust and monumental public architecture that recalls practice founder James Christou’s earliest public work, the City of Bayswater Offices (Christou and Vuko 1982). Both civic buildings use abstracted forms and large glazed portal ends to make a strong, resonant public architecture – one located in the legacy of modernity. Here, the club’s glazed portal is orientated so it is viewable from the northern approach and the west-facing beach.
City Beach Surf Lifesaving Club has two sets of buildings – the white concrete club at beach level and commercial buildings for mainly food and beverage retail along the eastern edge, slightly above the club building. These two types splay out towards the northern end to create an amphitheatre between them, but merge on the southern edge, one sitting above the other.
The architectural language of the two types of buildings is clearly different – the singular, white raking forms of the club sits against the articulated stone and glazed pavilions of the commercial buildings. This material inversion plays with our expectations. Instead of the public building clad in stone and the retail building in painted precast, it’s the other way around.
Reflecting the openness of the surrounding landscape, the commercial pavilions feature gaps between them to encourage movement on to the grassed public plaza above (and on top of) the surf lifesaving club. With grass, trees and paving, this plaza is a plateau for public use. A white painted steel balustrade frames this elevated park, feathering the building’s edge. This is a far better solution than a solid balustrade, and it is these kind of decisions in detailing, along with the gutsy raking walls, that elevates the precast into a suitably civic material.
A viewing platform on top of the club takes in the expanse of Perth’s endless beach. On the beach side, the platform juts over the front of the facade. This moment of verticality in a general horizontal expression is seeming a link to the clock tower in historical public architecture. Within the club building are a series of rooms, opening occasionally onto the beach, for public use – (running north to south) a gym, function room, toilets, change areas and storage for equipment and boats.
The club building’s singularity is strong enough to have bits subtracted from it. On the main, raking western facade the changing rooms entries make a series of these subtractions, forming a loggia. Behind the changing rooms is a wind protected courtyard – a space for people to spill out from inside, into the view of the endless beach.