A well-honed sense of place and purpose ensures this Waiheke Island home treads lightly on the land.
Dave Strachan was an exponent of ‘sustainable design’ before the phrase was coined. Not that he would describe himself as such. When designing his latest award-winning house, at Waiheke’s Owhanake Bay, Strachan says he did what he always does, that is “respond to the site, the climate, the local environment, and of course, the needs of the clients”. Nothing special, in other words, although the Auckland Architecture Awards judges disagreed, giving the house awards in both the residential and sustainable architecture categories. “Sustainable principles shouldn’t be add-on elements,” Strachan says, “they should be embedded in an architectural project.”
The Owhanake Bay House, designed for a semi-retired couple who had a sloping site but wanted an easily accessible single storey house, hunkers down below a ridge line at the head of a gully. Strachan designed the house as three narrow pavilions so that the plan could bend to follow the contours of the site. The architect likens the two intersections between the pavilions as “folds in the landform”. Just as these depressions often contain water courses so do the “wedges of space” between the pavilions – one accommodates the main bathroom and the other a plunge pool and spa. A translucent polycarbonate roof allows filtered natural light into these aquatic spaces.
Strachan also looked for inspiration to the traditional New Zealand villa verandah, but magnified this element to take advantage of Waiheke’s benign climate. In this house the verandah is promoted from narrow shelter to full-blown living space. On the eastern side, banks of flap windows on gas-powered struts open, leaving the verandah ‘posts’ as the only fixed structural element. “On this site and in this
climate, there was every incentive to design a house which allowed the occupants to really engage with the landscape,” Strachan says.
Durable natural materials have been specified, both to suit the site context and for longevity of life in a seaside environment. The stained cedar weatherboards approximate to the colour of the branches of the manuka which is regenerating under the care of Strachan’s clients, who have turned a paddock into a garden planted with native species with an area set aside for a kitchen garden. In the interior of the house, timber finishes add warmth and character, and copper-clad fins frame clear-glazed apertures to provide strong visual connections to the surrounding landscape. On the north and south sides, double-glazed, copper-clad window boxes frame “paintings” of the landscape. The house is warmed by five solar heaters, and effluent is gathered and then distributed onto the site.
“This building gives the impression that it actually breathes,” said the Auckland Architecture Awards jury. “One gets the sense that it fits its owners like a glove.”