‘MORELLA’, 5 Morella Rd, Mosman

We were engaged by a group interested in restoring a now dilapidated, once grand, harbour-side mansion in Sydney’s prestigious residential enclave of Clifton Gardens. The house was originally designed by E.M.Nicholls, Walter Burley-Griffin’s protege and later business partner and a link in the Frank-Lloyd Wright architectural lineage in Australia’s early 20th century development. Built in the 1940s, ‘Morella’ was designed and constructed for a prominent family, the Parer family, and remained largely unaltered until the house was abandoned in the 1990s. Empty for almost 20 years, the house is almost at the point of no-return with significant structural defects from years of neglect.

Our brief was to develop concepts to restore the existing, almost defunct and borderline collapsing existing brick house, and suggest suitable ways and strategies to extend the existing house through contemporary additions to bring the house up to contemporary standards. In this sense we conceptualised our architecture as needing to take a secondary, facilitating role: by increasing the size of the house suitable to command a substantial sale price, a significant piece of Australian and Sydney’s residential architecture would be retained for future generations. In this sense, we suggested that our architecture should be as voiceless as possible – a diagram of captured space that did its best to disappear behind the strong architectural language of ‘Morella’.

We focused on developing a strategic approach to the site over an individualistic architectural statement that would risk imposing our own architectural expression on the existing house. We worked closely with the client to put in place a restoration methodology for the existing house and prepare concept designs for a site wide refurbishment including pool, landscaping, garages and a new indoor-outdoor extension to expand the house into a unique, unrepeatable home marrying a significant piece of our city’s architectural history with a plan for its ongoing future.

After several months, the property was sold at public auction to an international buyer. Unaware of the house’s significance the successful bidders have no intention to retain the house despite its heritage listing, and did not accept our offer to further discuss our strategy for the site. The house remains empty and abandoned while moves towards its demolition continue.