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Architecture firm Luigi Rosselli’s new Surry Hills office has an ingenious use for terracotta roof tiles

April 13, 2018

The facade of the building in Surry Hills, made of old roof tiles. Photo: Prue Ruscoe

One of Australia’s most famous and innovative architects outsourced the design of his practise’s new Surry Hills office to a relative rookie, and just look at what he came up with!

“What’s it made of?” people ask on seeing the distinct facade of a four-level studio know as The Beehive. “Rusting steel? Plastic?”

None of the above. Raffaello Rosselli, 31, explains it as a ubiquitous Sydney material that is recycled and that apart from the transport costs, he got for free.

Stacked in different triangular concertinas are hundreds of terracotta roof tiles, “each quite beautiful, elemental and unique because the moulds in which they were pressed are all slightly different”.

The tiles let in a controlled amount of light and breeze into interior of the building. Photo: The facade of the building in Surry Hills, made of old roof tiles. Photo: Prue Ruscoe The tiles let in a controlled amount of light and breeze into the building. Photo: Prue Ruscoe

Photo: Prue Ruscoe Photo: Prue Ruscoe

The tiles came from demolished sections of a residential project his famous father and client, Luigi Rosselli, was working on at the time and would otherwise have gone to landfill.

So the ingenious reuse that so attractively and effectively screens the glazing of a west-facing, eight-metre wide frontage both keeps the interiors cool and baffles breezes so effectively “papers on our conference table that is pressed up against the window don’t blow away when they’re open”.

The client is very happy that his son who is nine years out of university and now runs his own solo architectural practise inside the building “bought the project in on time and on budget and has created a much better workspace than the one we had (previously) occupied.

“The controlled light intake makes the building very comfortable and more controlled than a skyscraper of glass”.

Where the apertures in the tiles are wide is where windows are located, “because it’s important for workspaces to have outlook”, says Luigi. “But they don’t need a lot of light, especially with the glare of computers”.

The tree in front dictated the shape of the facade, bending inwards where a branch grew. Photo: Prue Ruscoe The tree in front dictated the shape of the facade, bending inwards where a branch grew. Photo: Prue Ruscoe

The building was constructed on an old car park in Surry Hills. Photo: Prue Ruscoe The building was constructed on an old car park in Surry Hills. Photo: Prue Ruscoe

The idea of a brise soleil, (“sun-breaker screen”), such as Le Corbusier used on some projects, had long been in the back of Raff’s mind. In the small infill block that had previously been a car park, he saw using the tiles as being suitable to place “because it also matched the masonry material of the neighbouring warehouse.

“Luigi was in complete agreement”, he says, “as not only are they functional, they’re beautiful and rhythmically complex in their assembly”.

From the concrete base portal of the building that kinks inward to accommodate the branches of a paperbark tree and that therefore, says Raff, “became a collaborator on the project”, right through the building, the crafting hand and the organic response of the program is ever evident.

The stairway is partially tiled in a tread made up of marble chips that would also have been a scrapped material had the Rosselli studio not developed it into a product with a tile company that now manufactures it in China. Its effect reminds Luigi “of the traditional floors of Venice”.

The internal stairs are made with marble chips. Photo: The tread of the internal stairs are partially made with marble chips. Photo: Prue Ruscoe

The amorphous or keyhole-shaped window immediately visible at the top-floor lift exit was a custom-designed reject from a residential project. “A crazy-shaped window, it immediately invites you to cross the floor to the terrace”, says Luigi.

People on the Surry Hills street now stop to take photos and some compare it to some of Gaudi’s Barcelona buildings. Whatever anyone thinks of The Beehive it stands as a fascinating one off that “is very reflective of the good thinking and enthusiasm of the younger generation.

“He gets all of that from his dad”, says Luigi Rosselli.

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