At First Site
Belle Magazine Australia|October 2021
Polly Harbison is setting standards by following her instincts and adopting a grounded approach to projects.
Karen McCartney

The trajectory of any successful architect’s career can be marked by pivotal moments: first major renovation, the approved design for a standalone house, a project published by a respected magazine and a first significant award.

One such award that carries great prestige and the combined weight of its rollcall of previous winners – from Harry Seidler and Glenn Murcutt to Peter Stutchbury and Durbach Block Jaggers – is the Australian Institute of Architects’ Wilkinson Award (NSW Chapter). Established in 1961, it is presented annually for a residential project – and, as there are surprisingly few women in the award’s 60-year history, this year’s winner, Polly Harbison, breaks new ground as the first practice led by a sole female director. There is, however, nothing self-congratulatory in her attitude. “Awards are so subjective,” says Polly. “There were incredibly beautiful projects in the running, and while I am delighted to win, I am aware that there are many and varied factors in that decision.”

The winning project, Pearl Beach House on the NSW Central Coast, responds to the code for bushfire-prone areas in a way that reinvents the traditional typology of an Australian timber beach house. “Personally, I love timber pavilions in the bush but unfortunately we just can’t build like that anymore,” says Polly. “Rather than taking the old typology and wrapping it in new materials, we needed to do better and think about intrinsically resolving this relationship between building and environment.”

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