"Morella", 5 Morella Rd, Mosman
“Morella” is an abandoned harbour-side mansion in one of Sydney’s prestigious residential enclaves. Designed by protégé of Walter Burley-Griffin, E.M.Nicholls, “Morella” is a piece of the Frank Lloyd-Wright/Burley-Griffin legacy in Australia. At the point of collapse after years of abandonment, we prepared restoration, extension and site-wide regeneration plans to secure the house’s future.
SUPERCONTEXT was engaged by a client interested in restoring a now dilapidated, once grand, harbour-side mansion in Sydney’s prestigious residential enclave of Clifton Gardens/Mosman. The house was originally designed by E.M.Nicholls, Walter Burley-Griffin’s protégé and later business partner - a link in the Frank-Lloyd Wright architectural lineage in Australia’s early 20th century history. Built in the 1930s-40’s, ‘Morella’ was designed and constructed for a prominent family, the Parer family, and remained largely unaltered until the house was abandoned in the 1990s. Empty for almost 20 years, the house is almost at the point of no-return with significant structural defects from years of neglect.
Our brief was to develop concepts to restore the existing, almost collapsing existing brick house, and suggest suitable ways and strategies to extend the existing house through contemporary additions, to bring the house up to contemporary standards. In this sense, we conceptualised our architecture as taking a secondary, facilitating role: by increasing the size of the house suitably to bring it into line with contemporary living standards and its substantial neighbours, a significant piece of Australian and Sydney’s residential architecture would be retained for future generations.
In this sense, we suggested that our architecture should be as voiceless as possible – a diagram of captured space that did its best to disappear behind the strong architectural language of ‘Morella’.
We focused on developing a strategic approach to the site over an individualistic architectural statement that would impose our own architectural expression on the existing house, proposing a simple lightweight pavilion with an unembellished exterior, but rich interiors to connect the old house with the new garden pavilion. We worked closely with the client to put in place a restoration methodology for the existing house and prepare concept designs for a site-wide refurbishment including pool, landscaping, garages and a new indoor-outdoor extension to expand the house into a unique, unrepeatable home, marrying a significant piece of Australia’s architectural history with a plan for its ongoing future.
After several months of unsuccessful negotiation with representatives for the owners, the property was sold at public auction to an international buyer. Unaware of the house’s significance, the successful bidders have no intention to retain the house despite its heritage and protected status and did not accept our offer to further discuss our strategy for the site. The house remains empty and abandoned while moves towards its demolition continue.