Liv­ing in a glass house

An ul­tra-mod­ern home which op­er­ates com­pletely off the grid would be turn­ing heads but for the fact is hid­den in the hills of South Head.

Element - - BUSINESS - By James Rus­sell

To the south, through the sea spray haze, you can just make out the head­land of Muri­wai Beach. To the north, how­ever, Ran­gi­tiri Beach stretches to a point, some­where in the di­rec­tion of the Kaipara Har­bour’s South Head.

This is the view from the new home of Sarah Suther­land and Dougall Watt, high on the hill on Wil­son Road, South Head.

The ar­row-straight beach seems to pull all the features in­land from it into par­al­lel align­ment; the end­less strip of Wood­hill For­est, the long, skinny Lake Ker­ata, the in­land main road.

It has also in­spired the ar­chi­tects Fearon Hay who de­signed this home; it is a rec­tan­gu­lar box, with its two long sides aligned per­fectly to the beach – and ev­ery­thing else. The sym­me­try doesn’t end there, ei­ther. In­side the two ‘pods’ mir­ror each other at each end of the build­ing, with iden­ti­cal fire­places set into each one.

The ori­en­ta­tion of the build­ing means that it breaks the rules in terms of fac­ing north, yet the mea­sures put into the house for pas­sive so­lar heat­ing, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and in­su­la­tion means it doesn’t mat­ter – it is warm year-round with min­i­mal heat­ing in­put.

The build­ing is also ahead of its time in that it is off-the­grid, yet ef­fort­lessly runs all of the mod­ern con­ve­niences with power to spare.

It’s an ob­vi­ous source of pride for Suther­land and Watt, who be­fore they built this home spent two years painstak­ingly restor­ing a re-lo­cated Re­muera house boast­ing 13 rooms and four bath­rooms. That house sits at the foot of the hill from their new home, and can be seen from their lawn – a con­stant re­minder of the con­trast to the sim­plic­ity of their cur­rent dwelling.

The Fearon Hay house, most strik­ingly, is a glass house. Ex­te­rior cladding just doesn’t ex­ist; the walls are 93% glass. Both sides (the long bits of the rec­tan­gle) are made of sev­eral slid­ing panes of about five square me­tres in size and weigh­ing over 250kg each. It es­sen­tially means that two of the build­ing’s ‘walls’ can be re­moved, with all panes able to be stacked to the ends of the build­ing, or ar­ranged in any for­mat to suit con­di­tions. With the pre­vail­ing westerly breezes off the Tas­man Sea, the ef­fect on a warm day is stun­ning – like camp­ing in an in­cred­i­bly lux­u­ri­ous and grand gazebo.

The glass of th­ese gi­ant slid­ing doors is a sin­gle pane with a low emis­siv­ity coat­ing, which means heat can pass through it from out­side, but heat from in­side is re­flected back into the room.

The hard edges of the glass acreage is tem­pered by the ‘pods’ at ei­ther end of the build­ing, be­ing as they are made from re­cy­cled Rimu sal­vaged from a de­mol­ished In­ver­cargill nurs­ing home. The bed­rooms and bath­rooms are clev­erly ar­ranged around th­ese pods, and are no­tice­ably com­pact, with the em­pha­sis clearly put on the large cen­tral liv­ing and kitchen space.

The house took out the prize of Sus­tain­able Home $500,000 - $1mil­lion cat­e­gory at last year’s Reg­is­tered Master Builders PlaceMak­ers 2012 House of the Year.

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