Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club | Historic Reinvention

The great challenge of this project was to add to, edit and unify the years of accretions to this fine heritage listed Art Deco building. With the ultimate ambitions to meet the requirements of a modern life saving club in an elegant, functional and sympathetic way.

The Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club building holds prime position on Cronulla Beach.

We were approached by the Club with an intriguing brief. The Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club were seeking to refurbish the building and incorporate incremental improvements to several areas of the Club Building to suit their current requirements. This sounds simple enough, but due to the arrangement of the spaces and the age of the building these improvements could not be undertaken without addressing some significant issues – notably equitable access for men, women and the disabled, and satisfying contemporary fire and safety compliance requirements.

Context and Design Brief
The original Club building, a 3 storey Interwar Functionalist Style building dates from the 1940’s. It is a simple, but fine building with its original entry on the promenade level, a 2 storey hall, the historic heart of the building on the ground floor and with the mens’ change rooms located on the roof, open to the sky, (and to onlookers from the adjoining RSL Club which inevitably raises some eyebrows). At the Club’s opening in 1940 its membership was made up entirely of men and accordingly there were no women’s facilities within the Club building. Womens’ change facilities were subsequently retrofitted to a rear service wing and accessed rather awkwardly directly from the main hall, thereby restricting use of the hall and the change rooms.

Subsequent additions have added much needed space, particularly to the ground floor where plentiful storage is required for valuable life saving equipment, skis, boards and boats belonging to the various groups; Life Savers, Nippers, racing crews, etc. that use the Club. Two social spaces are located over these additions, north and south of the main building for use by the Club’s members and for gatherings, formal and informal, but these additions closed in the only 2 windows available to the original hall and relegated its status in the building to third in line to the other social spaces.

While the Club’s brief was to refurbish the building, and incrementally improve several aspect of the Club’s functioning, other peripheral but necessary issues would drive the solution for the project. These were:

• To address contemporary fire, health and safety issues.
• To provide equitable access to all areas of the building.
• To provide equitable access to change rooms; men, women and the disabled.

Other issues to be addressed in the refurbishment were to eliminate the duplication of toilet and kitchen facilities across the building and to address conflicting and erratic circulation which in some instances require you to traverse several levels and almost the entire perimeter of the building to get to spaces that are only a couple of metres apart.

Design Approach
One key move, unlocked the possibilities of the project. By “sliding” the Ceremonial Hall up one level within a structural “shaft” of the building (like moving the main piece in a Red Donkey puzzle [you’ll have to look that up]) several things became possible:

• The ground floor could be liberated for other uses – notably equitable co-location of mens’, womens’ and disabled change rooms with access directly off the beach.
• The Ceremonial Hall could be reinstated as the Ceremonial heart of the building with windows (and a clerestory) to at least 2 sides consistent with its original design.
• The building’s social gathering spaces could be consolidated on the intermediate level of the building where kitchens and toilets to service these function spaces could also be consolidated for better use and efficiency.
• A new “front door” could be created from the park side with a lift connecting all three levels of the building.
• A new administration office (previously isolated from the public) is proposed at the new “front door”.
• The original entry to the building could be reinstated as an operational entry and as a first point of call for life saving assistance and/or as a registration counter, shop etc. on the beach side of the building.
• 4 differing floor levels comprising the intermediate floor of the building could  be consolidated into one single level by moving the Ceremonial hall up one level, and reconstructing relatively small portions of the existing floor to align with the original building’s intermediate floor level.

Much of the exterior of the building will remain, but internally the building will be completely reorganised, reinstating its symbolic heart and giving the building a new lease on life

Design Outcome
The building’s interior is completely reorganised to address equitable access and provide better address to both the foreshore promenade and the elevated park level. The proposal seamlessly integrates the fine original heritage building and other functional portions of the existing building with modest additions to address the Club’s brief providing a single unified presentation to the Esplanade and Cronulla Park.

The building is united by a family of new elements that borrow from the straight and curved walled character of the original Functionalist Style building while also introducing a layer of finer more contemporary elements. A new roof with a repetitive structural module rests carefully over the elevated Ceremonial Hall providing a steel framed horizontal line over the prominent seaside faces of the building. It traces the parapet of the original hall incorporating a clerestory that bathes the new Ceremonial Hall with light. The simple horizontal frame belies the roof’s folded expression to the building’s park side face as well as its folded timber underbelly which imbues the Ceremonial Hall with a warm, animated character. A further roof module presents its underbelly to the Esplanade, giving formal expression to the Club’s informal gathering space; an elevated terrace at the southern end of the building. New and iconic ‘portals’ mark the key arrival and outdoor gathering spaces, the two terraces at the northern and southern end of the building, and the main entry at the elevated park level. The new elements, both walled and framed consolidate several historic layers of the building into a single composition that holds the original Heritage building front and centre.


We are regularly posting video and photos of the project under construction on News & Ideas