- Article by Online Editor
- Photography by Patrick Reynolds
- Architect Daniel Marshall Architects
For the inhabitants of Waiheke, a small and increasingly urban island only 30 minutes away from downtown Auckland, across the Hauraki Gulf, the rhythm of daily life runs to that of a ferry timetable. Home to many locals, who commute to the mainland regularly, the island also has a number of holiday homes that are occupied periodically, creating both a daily and seasonal tide of arrivals and departures.
Designed by Daniel Marshall Architects, this particular destination/holiday home was created for a Hong Kong-based family, intent on having a three-bedroom retreat in direct contrast to their life in the city. Waiheke’s proximity to the CBD is balanced by the crumpled folds of the surrounding landscape. Close to the ferry terminal it’s all hustle and bustle at docking time, but the cars, bikes and buses quickly scatter to dozens of hidden bays and valleys.
Taking into account the high value of local real estate and the island’s physical topography, ridgelines are a sensitive issue for architects. Everyone wants to be on them, but according to New Zealand building code, new construction must be less than 4.5 metres above the natural ground. Fortunately, says Daniel Marshall, this suited the approach his practice wanted to take in this case. ‘It’s a lovely site, and we wanted to shape something that was reflective of the natural landforms – that’s why we did a lot of modelling to get an idea of the scale and the wider context.’
The rise and fall of the ridge is reflected in the shape of the roof, giving the house a low profile in relation to its context. ‘Rather than creating a little monopoly house that sits on the landscape, we’ve tried to integrate it with the way the landscape moves,’ says Mike Hartley, the project architect. ‘It doesn’t break up the natural rhythm.’
On the north side, the ridge falls dramatically down to the sea. On the south, the gentler, more pastoral character of Waiheke is apparent, with grapevines and grazing sheep. The owners of the property maintain an olive grove here and produce their own olive oil. A large proportion of the seven-hectare site has been dedicated to the regeneration of native bush. ‘The house is a result of these two conditions, in a way,’ says Marshall. ‘When you look at the plan, there are two forces operating.’
Taking their cues from familiar local landmarks – Stoney Batter’s World War II gun emplacements and rock formations – the architects dug in to the site, creating a wall of masonry and landscape elements to screen the house from the south. Entry is via a stair following the shape of the landscape, which arrives at an internal courtyard between the two wings of the building.
Marshall carefully balanced the architectural elements of the interior to create a feeling of calm inside the house. The wide, open spaces, views of the sea and sky, not to mention the horizontal lines within, encourage the owners to relax into it, he says, in contrast to the more urban environment that forms their day-to-day lives.
There is a range of distinct areas in which the family members can find their own space – including the lawn and an old barn further down the hill, which is often used by the children. ‘One of the things New Zealanders do really well is the incorporation of exterior space into the social process of the house,’ says Marshall.
The plan is unusual in that visitors enter straight into the heart of the house, where the kitchen and main entertaining area has been placed on the axis. ‘In a way, that saved a lot of space, and walking through the kitchen as you’d walk through a corridor plays on the usual layout. Because it’s a holiday house, we didn’t feel like we had to use conventional spatial arrangements.’
The interiors were kept largely neutral, with tallow-wood floors that are oiled for a natural finish, white kitchen surfaces and white travertine tiles in the paved areas that create a seamless flow through the central courtyard and entryway. Raw concrete elements, such as the fireplace, were then added to give a sculptural touch.
Marshall developed some of his ideas after a visit to Luis Barragan’s lava stone-paved house in Mexico City. ‘The floors are a thick, open travertine, and lovely to walk on. I think it’s good if you’re in a retreat environment to have that sensory aspect,’ he says. ‘You tend to slide from one space to another really easily. It’s a very calming, comfortable place to be.’
The main bathroom is an en suite belonging to the master bedroom and, in comparison, quite opulent. Similarly clad in travertine, this time with a wood-like grain and honey tinge, it also has its own small ‘viewing courtyard’, with growing plants to further protect the occupants’ modesty within the screening wall. The clients describe it as like being in a forest.
The twin personalities of the house are articulated in the solid stone shoulder it turns to the public, and the north-facing clifftop side, which overlooks the bay and is mostly wood – an open, airy expanse, framed by large sliding glass doors that open directly onto the walkway and the narrow strip of lawn. Marshall jokingly refers to this as the ‘infinity lawn’, as it simply ends where the cliff drops down to the sea.
‘There’s the plywood and timber weekend/holiday house, but when you look at it from the entrance, it’s heavy masonry, so it’s very much a play on those two different types of materiality,’ says Marshall.
Waiheke is also, however, crisscrossed by public walking tracks, one of which runs past the north side of the property. Marshall’s team used the swimming pool as a way of screening off the house. ‘We used the bulk of the pool to shield it, which means when you’re walking along the track, you can’t see up into the house. There is planting there as well, but those structures were very much top of our minds when we were working out ways to give the occupants extra privacy.’
At the centre of the house, there’s a transparent core created by two adjoining, covered courtyards. One is an extension of the entryway, and the other rolls seamlessly through the house and into the back lawn.
Given the stunning location, the architects didn’t want the building to compete with the landscape, so instead have focused on ‘framing’ the surrounding views, setting up sight-lines that draw the eye through the pool area and outwards to the horizon beyond. The building is also positioned in such a way that the sun coming through the courtyards has the effect of breaking up its overall form into smaller pieces, lending it a quieter presence in the land.
‘The thing about New Zealand in general, and Waiheke in particular, is the wind,’ says Marshall. ‘There’s always a wind coming from the north, east or south-west. So it’s essential to have these courtyard areas that are enclosed, but also catch the sun.’
The central courtyards also provide an intermediary point between the private end of the house, which contains bedrooms and a den, and the open plan kitchen, lounge and entertaining area, which abuts the pool and barbecue area. While it is ostensibly a single-level building, there’s a small step up, like a fault line that runs through the middle – a feature familiar from some of Marshall’s other house projects, and which he uses to delineate space in a low-key way.
‘I play a lot with levels,’ says Marshall. ‘Here, it is actually responding to the natural ground level. It’s only 550 millimetres, or two steps, up and it gave us the opportunity to have areas that look like steps, but double as seats.’ The schism also forms the raised hearth and seating area around an outdoor fire in the inner courtyard.
‘The language sets up the idea that you are moving to another part of the house. If it was all on the same level, you’d just roll on through, but this sets up an ascent to the slightly higher part, where the bedrooms are.’
The step affords a small ‘pause’ as people move through the house, catching them in one of its transitory areas. At the base of the stairway leading up to the house’s entrance, there’s a similar set of seat-steps, creating an intermediary area between inside and outside, where the family tends to gradually congregate on their way out to catch the next ferry off the island.
‘We wanted to give people an opportunity to leave slowly,’ says Mike Hartley. ‘It’s a gentle mediation back into the world. There’s that classic thing now where they go, ‘Where are my keys? Right… we’re going… no, we’re still sitting on the stairs waiting for someone.’ The aim was to make that as enjoyable a process as arriving, rather than just slamming the front door and taking off.’