Architects: Strachan Group Architects
Location: Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Head Architect: Dave Strachan
Builders/Main Contactor: Tomik Ltd (Auckland & Waiheke Island based)
Structural Engineer: Adam Mackenzie
Photographs: Patrick Reynolds
Located on Waiheke Island, a 19km ferry journey from down-town Auckland, the Owhanake Bay house hunkers-down below a ridge line at the head of a gully. Slowing to the pace of “island life”, the house turns its back on the city to engage the view east over the outer islands of the Hauraki Gulf.
Designed for a semi-retired couple, ease of movement and single level accessibility were requirements that set challenges for design on a site with a significant natural slope.
Broken into three narrow pavilions, the arrangement of the house “bends” to follow the natural contours, allowing ease of movement through the landscape and minimal excavation of the landform. The house becomes a place to pause, and to look out. A play on the traditional NZ villa veranda, the notion was further extended to explore the idea of “living on the veranda” in a sub-tropical climate. Banks of eastern flap windows on gas struts open leaving only “veranda posts” intact as occupants engage with the landscape under the shelter and shade of the “veranda” roof.
As in the natural environment where folds in the landform often contain watercourses, the two wedges of space between the three pavilions become spaces for the gathering of water, points of cleansing. These two linkages contain 2 bath-houses, one the main ensuite and the other a plunge pool/spa. In these spaces the boundaries between interior and exterior are further broken down with the east/west walls constructed of fully glazed louvre banks and exterior materials used on the floor, wall & ceiling. A translucent polycarbonate roof allows filtered natural light into the spaces.
A semi-screened outdoor room to the west of the main living space is bounded by water, with reflection pools at both ends. This space is set into the landform to provide both shelter and access to seasonal afternoon sun and has an outdoor fireplace for warmth and ambience in the cooler months.
Durable natural materials have been carefully chosen to reflect the site context and have longevity in the harsh seaside environment. Oxide-coloured concrete floors “float” over the landform to the east and plastered masonry retaining walls anchor the house back to the earth to the west. The insulated concrete floor acts as thermal mass providing passive solar heating, which is boosted with hydraulic heating via a 5-panel solar hot water collector with electric back-up. This also supplies hot water to the house. The house is framed with plantation-grown pine and laminated pine portals.
The dark stained cedar weatherboards, from an FSC certified sustainably-managed source, reflect the colouring of the branches of regenerating manuka bush, blending with the landscape when viewed from the sea. Timber finished interiors consist of meranti ply ceilings and hoop pine walls, adding contrast, warmth and character. Copper-clad fins frame the clear-glazed apertures to provide strong visual connections to the landscape beyond.
These west-facing fins are set at an angle to receive the last of the winter setting sun that casts oblique light onto the textures of the interior walkways. Double-glazed copper-clad boxes to the north and south elevations frame “paintings” of the landscape. Potable water is collected via rainwater from the roof and stored in tanks on site. Effluent is treated and disposed of on site via landscaped areas.
Extensive native planting, and vegetable gardens, irrigated from an on-site bore, condition the air and act as a bridge between the existing site vegetation and the house. Sculpture and furniture from local artists further enhance the architecture.