Night Sky of Blackheath wins Robin Boyd Award for residential architecture

Angle to the stars: A Blackheath home has won the top architectural prize for new homes. All photos: Michael Nicholson.
Angle to the stars: A Blackheath home has won the top architectural prize for new homes. All photos: Michael Nicholson.

Whenkeen radio astronomer and mathematician/engineer, Blackheath's Basil Borun, asked for a home with a window to the night sky, he never expected it would be a national award winner.

But his 130 square metre home - Night Sky - with its oval skylight to the Milky Way, has recently taken out the prestigious Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture - Houses (New).

Designed by award winning Peter Stutchbury Architecture, itwas built in two years by Glenbrook's Mark Tam of Dimark Constructions with many local recycled materials and a stunning and unique parabola roof.

Its intended purpose: to constantly offer awe. Basil Borun in his home.

Its intended purpose: to constantly offer awe. Basil Borun in his home.

The project brief was that the home be accessible for Mr Borun, a diabetic, who has been in a wheelchair since 2018. But it also needed to take him on an architectural journey and connect him with the galaxy

The award was announced on November 4. It is part home, part observatory and features at its centre, a chapel-like room with an opening to the sky for stargazing at the Milky Way.

The 2021 National Architect Awards jury said: "There is a poised asymmetricity in the placement of the unglazed oval oculus, which is also something few authors would dare. The form develops the ovoid shape of one's own eyeball and offers it to the person in a wheelchair at a precise resonation and frequency with its intended purpose: to constantly offer awe."

"I discover contentment and fulfilment in my mountain cabin" Basil Borun, 68, said. "I'm blown away [that it's an award winner]," the polymath told the Gazette.

The inspiration for the house came from an underground bunker in the land of Dracula - or "Count Vlad the Impaler", in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. Mr Borun said he was captivated by the 19th-century ammunition bunker built of raw brick with arches.

"I expected it to be dark and dingy [but] it was very atmospheric, the brick work was beautiful. I just have a penchant for that type of architecture."

Even though it was deliberately not orientated to the north, the home generates its own electricity with its power production designed to potentially last 120 years.

Mr Borun praised his "brilliant" builder. Builder Mark Tam said he took delight in "crafting" the home with his small team.

"This house is so unique and the story to the house is special," Mr Tam said. "To be a local builder and building what has been judged Australia's best designed house for 2021 in the Blue Mountains, has been an honour."

In his outdoor area: the entire home covers 187 square metres and was deemed an award winner for the extraordinary atmosphere it created. "I spared no expense," Mr Borun said.

In his outdoor area: the entire home covers 187 square metres and was deemed an award winner for the extraordinary atmosphere it created. "I spared no expense," Mr Borun said.

"Our team did all the concrete works, bricklaying, kitchen/laundry joinery, etc. The electrical and plumbing were also from local tradesmen.

"One of the house's unusual aspects was the client's desire for a parabola roof as the client is in a wheelchair. Being able to look up was fundamental to his enjoyment of the house and his passion was astronomy, so the design includes a 3.5m long by 2.5m wide elliptical retractable skylight in the vaulted ceiling that is unglazed and is tilted 20 degrees to the south so that he can gaze at the stars."

Mr Tam and project designer Fernanda Cabral held cut-outs of prototypes of the skylight up against the sky for Mr Borun to envisage the space.

Mr Borun said he studied architecture in the same era as his architect and said "Pete and I broke all the rules [with this house]." He called Mr Stutchbury a "very sophisticated" designer.

"It was built with love and designed and created with love."

Mr Stutchbury has said it is a "really good model for accessible housing".

Mr Borun said his only concern now was accessibility to town. He echoed recent concerns of other residents in southern Blackheath, raised in the Gazette, citing issues with footpaths into the town.