Say the word Australia and most people overseas will think of kangaroos, koalas and our spectacular eastern coastline. But it’s not just tourists who are drawn to our beaches; locals love the water too, and as a result easily place a premium on waterfront living and design.

While some of the houses lining the country’s east coast are deserving of their hype, many of their older multi-residential counterparts are characterised by inexpensive construction, ill-considered layouts and poor thermal control. This is because coastal apartments were traditionally designed for short term ‘summer holiday’ living, making them uncomfortable to live in year-round and ill-equipped to deal with the harsh conditions that come when you live close to the sea:  high summer heat, fierce on-shore winds at the end of the day, sea spray, salt-laden corrosive air (and noisy neighbours).

Energy inefficiency is also prevalent with these older builds, with a lot of energy wasted on heating and cooling to deal with summer heat and winter chills.                                    

With this in mind, and an opportunity to redefine what seaside apartment living means in Australia, NSW architecture firm Fox Johnston conceived a 45-unit complex at Little Bay in Sydney’s south that veers away from the simple, non-invasive residential builds that are so common by the water. Rather, the Solis apartments boasts to be more sophisticated than a holiday flat; a high quality urban complex that ‘happens’ to be by the sea, albeit on a remarkable 13.6 hectares of rare oceanfront land that is exposed to a beautiful, sometimes unforgiving, rugged coastline. 


Solis is also set apart from its older neighbours by being extremely mindful of its site. Designed to leave a small mark on the fragile coastal environment it sits in, the block conserves and efficiently uses both energy and rainwater, and is adapted to all the nuances of its environment.

“Australian coastal environments like this are particularly harsh: too much wind, sun and salt. At certain times of the day, it can feel like you are on the prow of a ship, being buffeted by 100km per hour winds,” says Fox Johnston Director Conrad Johnston. “Older apartments are always too hot in summer and too cold in winter.

“We have designed the building with this front of mind. At the same time, it is obviously important to maintain maximum access to sunlight, views and airflow, but to be able to manage these throughout the day more effectively as conditions change.”

However, these initiatives, while important, are mostly invisible to the naked eye, revealed only when the visitor digs deeper. Instead, the Solis apartments’ most striking feature is – surprise, surprise – its fa├žade; a sleek, urban front carved out of urban materials like masonry and steel.

A curved steel-clad five-storey form is first seen when the visitor approaches from the north. This is the building’s back turned to the road in favour of the water.

FoxJohnston_LittleBay_May2016_3409-1.jpgWalking around to the front, the visitor is met by another, sculptured surprise.

FoxJohnston_LittleBay_May2016_4055-1.jpgFour floors of apartments, each with its own scissor-shaped north facing balcony and strong horizontal lines, are bookended by another strong sculptural form at the eastern end.

The balconies are not only a ‘tool’ used to create a dynamic dialogue with its new neighbours to the north and east. Their distinctive shape also ensure full northerly orientation and maximum sunshine for every apartment – the holy grail of seaside living. 


Durable external cladding and wall finishes with inbuilt longevity were chosen given the building’s proximity to the water. Concrete and Bowral dry-pressed brick in Simmental Silver joins Faizonal Flat Sheet Aluminium Cladding in ‘Mattgradunkel’ to reinforce the urban living mantra, which is also evident within all three parts of the building – its central volume which houses one bedroom and study apartments, and its western and eastern volumes which primarily consist of two-bedroom apartments. 


Each apartment in the central section runs the full width of the building, accessible via walkways at the rear of the building and showing off strong horizontal lines defined by steel screens. The orientation and linear proportions of the design allow passive heating and cooling to be maximised.

Despite their layout differences, each apartment has been designed for complete cross-ventilation and the ability to open up or close down spaces as desired. Adjustable sun shading screens allow natural sunlight to filter in throughout the day, with direct solar access achieved all year round in all of the apartments. Every unit also lays claim to duel aspect and a balcony allowing natural ventilation.


These initiatives, striving for utmost interior comfort, are complemented by elements that scream relaxed seaside vibes – from the natural Australian spotted gum timber floors and joinery, to the finely crafted stone kitchens.                    

But Fox Johnston will not let us get away with focusing on just the aesthetics of the building. A point of pride for the design team was the project’s successful realisation of its environmental sustainability and energy conservation goals –objectives that are a clear priority for the entire Little Bay precinct.

“A key driver for the design was our desire to reduce environmental impact through energy and water reduction, minimising waste, stormwater and rainwater management and promoting biodiversity,” says Conrad Johnston.

“Close proximity to the ocean and sensitive marine environments has motivated outstanding water use and treatment initiatives. An integrated water cycle ensures wastewater is recycled for reuse in dwellings as well as the near by public parks and golf course. All stormwater and rainwater is treated through a series of swales and bio-filtration ponds, improving water quality before discharging.


Carpet (Bedroom)
‘Winsome Grey’ 157/346 by Moods of Money

Wet Areas
57D Grigio Marostra Natural Ceramic Tile

Common Areas
Sealed Concrete Floor

Woodform Architectural, Lifestyle Decking Pacific Teak, Concealed Fixing finished with Intergrain Ultradeck

Living, study, hallway
American White Oak Engineered ‘Floating’ Floor


Lobbies, Hallways
Painted Render – Low Sheen, Low VOC Dulux ‘Domino

Internal Walls
Painted Plasterboard – Low Sheen, Low VOC Dulux ‘Natural White’

Wet Areas
57D Grigio Marostra Natural Ceramic Tile


Painted Render
Low Sheen, Low VOC Dulux ‘Whisper White’

Painted Masonry
Low Sheen, Low VOC Dulux ‘Whisper White’

Face Brick
Bowral Bricks Dry-Pressed Brick in Simmental Silver

Metal Cladding
Faizonal Flat Sheet Aluminium Cladding in ‘Mattgradunkel’


Aluminium Supasia in Dulux Duratec ‘Eternity Nickel Pearl Matt’ powdercoat finish

Fixed Louvres
Aluminium fixed louvre system with 80mm wide x 2.0mm thick extruded aluminium louvres, set at 45 degrees @ 70mm cts – natural anodised finish


Flat, Low VOC Dulux ‘Natural White

Timber Cladding
Woodform Architectural Concept Click Spotted Gum 60mm x 19mm battens @ 10mm spaings


Kitchen Joinery
American Qhite Pak in Timber Veneer, crown cut with clear polyurethane finish

Kitchen Joinery Panels
Mat, Low VOC Dulux ‘Natural White’

Laminex, Essastone Quartz Crystal Porcini reconstituted stone
Compact Laminate Multipurpose on 20mm moisture resistant substrate in ‘Poar White’

Aluminium powder coated in Dulux Duratec ‘Eternity Natural Pearl Matt’