• Part of the Snelling House 1, seen from the entry steps, ca 2003 (Davina Jackson).

9 Coorabin Road, Northbridge, NSW, 1949–55

Snelling purchased this steep property, overlooking Sydney’s Middle Harbour from the Northbridge peninsula, with funding from the family of his first wife, Nancy Springhall. He designed a large, multi-level house for themselves and a potential family. The design followed the steep downhill site, beginning with a concrete driveway curving down to a double carport, then a covered stairway descending to the front door.

Beneath the carport, a concrete-walled bunker, to serve as a private cinema, was partially installed, with its back wall using the site’s existing sandstone. A swimming pool was installed to the north of the house, accessible by a side path that continued down to the water’s edge. Snelling built some exterior walls and a monumental fireplace using surplus sandstone from the old Victorian façade of the old Lamington Hall boarding house at 46 Margaret Street, Sydney, which he redesigned as modern offices for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company.

The Snellings worked manually on their site on weekends to save costs. Although Snelling had do-it-yourself skills from his early days producing commercial displays in New Zealand, he had just begun his architectural studies and struggled to grasp some engineering design challenges. Unlike most of his later architecture, this project was not well-detailed: examples include formwork irregularities in the kerbs of the concrete driveway and buckling of ceiling panels above the entry staircase. The Snellings sold this site before completion, after they argued over furnishing styles and separated in 1955.

One later owner added rooms under
the house and completed insensitive renovations. After several decades of
deterioration, especially to the original roof and gutters, new owners, John
and Diane Reidl, commissioned Alexander Tzannes architects to restore and renovate
it in 1992. Tzannes’s firm won the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’s
1997 Wilkinson Award (NSW house of the year) for their update – which revived
long-suppressed interest in Snelling. Tzannes wrote to the jury:

Snelling’s
work is particularly interesting when compared to other contemporary design
approaches (e.g. the Rose Seidler house) because of the relationship of the
building to the site, developed through the section, and its use of natural
materials such as stone and timber. The house is designed as ‘part of the
site’, not highly articulated ‘on the site’, and this approach is confidently
explored by the original architect with considerable skill. … It is our view
that the approach of the original designer may not be adequately recognized.

Sources

—Architect-Designed Houses. 1997.Snelling house: Alexander Tzannes: Wilkinson award’, No. 14, p. 9.

—Architecture Australia. 1997. ‘Robin Boyd award: Snelling house: Alexander Tzannes’, November–December, pp. 48–49.

—Architecture Bulletin. 1997. ‘1997 awards – Wilkinson award: the Snelling house Northbridge’, July, pp. 22–23.

—Daily Telegraph. 1997. ‘State of excellence’, 14 June, p. 10.

—Daily Telegraph (Homes). 1997. ‘First place: the 1997 NSW architecture award winners’, 14 June, section cover.

—Daily Telegraph. 1997. ‘And the winners of the 1997 national awards for architecture are … two old houses and a defunct power station’, 15 November, p. 11.

—Greenwood, Helen. 1996. ‘True to form’, The Sydney Morning Herald (Domain), 19 December, 8–9.

—Kovac, Johan Andrew. 1999. Three Houses by Douglas Burrage Snelling 1947–1955 (B. Arch dissertation). University of Technology, Sydney.

—Monument. 1996.Projects in progress: Reidl house’. No. 13, p. 112.

—Monument. 1997. ‘Snelling revisited’, No. 18, pp. 36–41.

—Tzannes, Alexander. 1997. Submission to the RAIA NSW housing awards program. Sydney: RAIA.

—Ward, Peter. 1997. ‘Nice, quiet neighbours’, The Australian, 19 September, p. 40.

—Ward, Peter. 1997. ‘Signs of the times’, The Australian, 15–16 November, p. 65.