Kempsey Crescent Head Surf Lifesaving Club
Crescent Head is a quintessential Australian beach town, lying along New South Wales’s north coast.
Af Jennifer McMaster
Renowned for its iconic beach – and its excellent surf break – it thrums with out-of-towners in the summer, and quiets down in the winter. At its heart lies a community of around a thousand residents – the locals who call this place home.
Kempsey Crescent Head Surf Lifesaving Club, by Neeson Murcutt Architects, is a building designed for this coastal community. It provides the town with a place to gather, and to perform the vital work of surf-lifesaving. The building dignifies its site – and its community – with a clear and crisp piece of architecture that is at once refined and unpretentious.
The new building was designed to replace an existing clubhouse, which had fallen into disrepair. However, due to strict regulations placed on the site, the building needed to adopt the same footprint as its predecessor, despite the fact that the dimensions and orientation were less than ideal.
Neeson Murcutt Architects have responded deftly to these constraints. The once-boxy building envelope has been transformed into a volume that is both sculptural and site-specific. As the architects describe, the intent was to create a building that is experienced ‘in the round’ and thus ‘belongs to its landscape’ – qualities which can be seen up close and from afar.
On approach, Kempsey Crescent Head Surf Lifesaving Club reads as a large, prismatic mass that glistens in the sunlight. The building form is clipped and cropped, with no two facades the same.
The club’s pearlescent sheen is a result of the building’s ‘pipi shell’ cladding. The entire structure is skinned with soft-hued bricks rendered in creamy, pastel shades. This same color palette is continued on the roof, a fifth façade wrapped in glossy tiles to match the building below. This holistic approach ensures that Kempsey Crescent Head Surf Lifesaving Club reads as a homogeneous object in its landscape.
Elsewhere, the building is kept equally consistent, with a refined palette of gestures all reinforcing the architectural intent. ‘Hit-and-miss’ brickwork provides ventilation to ground-floor spaces, while neat tucks in the building form clearly define public spaces such as the kiosk.
Functionally, there is a clear divide between the upper and lower floors. The ground floor is purely pragmatic and allows surf lifesaving equipment to gain direct access to the beach. Upstairs, there is a multi-purpose space that can accommodate various community events.
Here, the design intent was to explore ‘framing and spatial telescoping’ by opening up and closing down specific views. In reality, this translates into a series of delightfully framed vistas of nearby headlands and inlets. A series of operable doors can be thrown back along the beachfront edge, allowing the salt air to permeate the space. Slender lighting dangles from above, adding further ambiance.
Kempsey Crescent Head Surf Lifesaving Club is a laid-back and approachable building, as befits its beachside location. The materiality is deliberately raw and durable, relying on a palette of concrete, concrete blockwork, plywood and terrazzo. These complement the external bricks and tiles, which bring shimmer and play to this project.
In many ways, Kempsey Crescent Head Surf Lifesaving Club epitomizes the best of Australian architecture – and character. It is at once relaxed and vibrant, gentle and joyful. As such, this building feels perfectly of-its-place, and already forms the core of its community.