Family project finds new ways to make use of what's old
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Family project finds new ways to make use of what's old

A legacy of Stuart Forsyth's youth at Western Australia's Cottesloe Beach is his red, sun-ravaged face.

''My summers were either in the surf or out on the tennis court, in the era when you thought you had to harden off, had to suffer a sunburn to see out the summer,'' he said.

Stuart Forsyth and his Eco- Friendly serviced apartments, Dickson.

Stuart Forsyth and his Eco- Friendly serviced apartments, Dickson.Credit:Melissa Adams

Age and experience leave unique marks, so when he discovered that 150 years of belting hail had given corrugated iron delivered to his apartment project in Dickson a quirky finish, Mr Forsyth was delighted.

The iron, from 1860s farm sheds along the Murray River, separates seven apartments and complements corrugated iron on the upper storey's cantilevered punch-outs on the two-storey building.

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The upper-level iron is recycled from the 1960s garage that once stood on the Stockdale Street block, reinforcing Mr Forsyth's affection for the once-abundant building staple.

''Working with it, hands on at close proximity, I began to become aware of the beautiful patina and so on that develops over time with a zinc-coated, steel galvanised iron,'' he said, ''especially the older galvanised iron. What we begin to notice is really lovely large zinc crystals that develop over time. Then you actually get the other colours of the iron coming through, so you will get slight rust patches and a different patina showing.''

The Forsyth family are about to open the serviced apartments, after spending four years designing and building them using recycled materials.

Mr Forsyth says he is an artist who builds. In contrast to battles between residents and expedient developers, he has gone to extra expense, spending four years and $2800 a square metre on the apartments, which feature old Australian hardwood on upstairs balcony louvres and repurposed timber to frame landings off the terraces.

His training in Zen Buddhism means he must make the most of every opportunity and all materials, and respect existing relationships in the street and neighbourhood. (Stockdale Street neighbours who watched the construction emailed him to say, ''Wish other developers were as professional and sympathetic to their surrounds.'')

Mr Forsyth's son-in-law, Michael Draper, helped with the design, while Mr Forsyth's son, Sunny - an engineer and founder of Abundant Water, which distributes water-cleaning filters to isolated communities abroad - project-managed the construction.

His wife, Barbara, and daughters, Faith and Casuarina, who will run the business - ''One of a Kind Apartments'' - chose a colour scheme and creative cities to distinguish each individually designed apartment: orange, Mexico City; yellow, San Francisco; red, Shanghai; indigo, Kyoto; blue, Paris; green, Yogyakarta; and violet, Deli.

It was creative Canberra, also celebrated in the recently launched ''Brand Canberra'' project, that inspired the building, which has an eight-star energy rating.

''We were excited that Brand Canberra talks of creative, involved and ready. We have seized on that same motive for some time now,'' Mr Forsyth said. ''This building and design certainly embodies that.''

He credits engineer Andy Stodulka with inventing the basement ceiling's arched ribs of Corcon, which trebles the strength while reducing the amount of material required because of the arches between the ribs.

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Little has been wasted. Form ply for forming up the slab is recycled as bedhead boards. On the foyer walls copper trays frame old spanners and spirit levels. Tradies' and artisans' tools have been embedded in the foyer's polished concrete floor.

''As an artist we talk about positive and negative space,'' Mr Forsyth said. ''Generally positive space is what design is based on, negative space is what is left over. But really, good design is balancing out the positive and negative, so the negative is not really a negative, it is an important part of the design.''

John Thistleton is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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