Engineers Diana and Peter felt confident they would succeed in building their dream home on a steep, vacant block in Merewether. Five previous attempts to build there had failed, so they knew they were up for a challenge.
The steep slope and massive, two-metre-high weeds were ominous signs that this was no easy block to build upon. It also has a somewhat odd, triangular shape and an easement to allow for passage to neighbouring properties. And if that wasn’t enough, there are three open coal seams running directly underneath it.
While previous owners had managed to get Development Approval (DA), none of them had secured the Construction Certificate (CC) that is required to actually start building.
Diana and Peter bought the block in July 2018 and went through a challenging approval process of almost two years before they were finally able to break ground in May 2020.
“Peter and I are both civil engineers and we work on building projects every day,” says Diana. “But even we hadn’t been aware of the challenges we would face to get a CC. In our jobs, we are problem solvers, we find technical solutions, one problem at a time. If you can’t solve a problem, you just haven’t been trying hard enough.
“I had been in Italy just before we started building and saw those beautiful houses on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. And I couldn’t help but thinking if these guys were able to build these houses perched on cliffs more than a hundred years ago, surely, we can build ours.”
However, by the time construction started, COVID restrictions added another set of challenges to this mix.
“Our solution for the steep angle of the block was to anchor the home with concrete piles, and to build a massive retaining wall, but to not dig too deep into the ground to keep excavation costs at bay. However, at that point, we didn’t know that we would have to fill up two of the three mining seams with concrete and that our steel piles would have to go up to 13 metres deep into the sandstone. Thankfully, a third mining shaft was 80 metres deep so that wasn’t a problem.”
On solid ground
During the Pasha Bulker storm, a garage on a neighbouring block had simply given in to gravity and slid down the hill, so the couple and their architects and geotechnical experts knew they had to go all the way to create a sound foundation.With the engineering challenges literally piling up, it was crucial that the whole team pull together.
“Everyone had the same goal, we just all wanted to build this house,” Diana recalls fondly. The couple had selected their architects for their modern aesthetic and finesse of their designs. They recommended builder Archie Moroney from Newcastle based company Buildingwise Construction.
“We did speak with other builders as a matter of due diligence, but Archie was an out-of-the-box thinker. He also had that passion, the drive to see the project through and that was obvious right from the start. We looked at some of his other projects and were impressed by the craftsmanship and the quality of the finishes. There definitely was no cutting of any corners and I would happily work with him again. He is a great builder, and we got on really well too.”
Read more about our beautiful homes in the Winter issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.
Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography by Murray McKean