De­sign note­book

Q&A with James War­ren of Upoko Ar­chi­tects

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What kind of com­pro­mises had to be made to de­liver the house with such a small foot­print?

While the brief aimed for a small foot­print, it didn’t limit the ac­tual floor area. The chal­lenge was to make the foot­print as small as pos­si­ble while work­ing well, and so there re­ally were no im­me­di­ate com­pro­mises. De­sign­ing some­thing at its most con­cen­trated tends to of­fer a lot of value. But mak­ing sure the house had a gen­er­ous sense of space was im­por­tant. The build­ing is po­si­tioned in a clear­ing the client had made. The bush is quite thick, so the veg­e­ta­tion acts like a wall. We used a lot of glass on the ground floor, which visu­ally ex­tends the in­ter­nal space out to­ward the for­est edges.

Did the coastal for­est present any unique chal­lenges?

We al­ways have projects on in Welling­ton and are well-versed in de­sign­ing build­ings for windy coastal environments! The clients had cre­ated sev­eral small clear­ings – or out­door rooms – in the for­est for cook­ing, bathing and liv­ing, and it was quite unique to find a fit for the cabin within this back­drop.

The house is de­cep­tively sim­ple, but highly crafted. What were the most com­plex as­pects of the de­sign?

De­sign­ing a square build­ing and di­vid­ing it up equally is a sim­ple idea, but ex­pos­ing the struc­ture was not. Noth­ing can be cov­ered up, and so ev­ery­thing is on dis­play. Lay­ing this all out as a com­po­si­tion and think­ing about how each piece fits with the next is al­ways a chal­lenge from which there is no es­cape.

What as­pect of the house do you value the most?

Be­ing able to open up the in­side into the for­est is won­der­ful, it feels like you are on an ad­ven­ture, which is how I usu­ally feel on the coast and a great part of be­ing on hol­i­day, too. I also ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­posed struc­ture: the de­tail­ing was tricky in parts, and the builders’ skills are re­ally on dis­play.

The clients were happy to take their time with the de­sign and build. How did this in­form your process and the out­come?

The time al­lowed us to re­flect on as­pects of the build­ing that were not true to it­self, and let us find in­ter­est­ing and mean­ing­ful so­lu­tions that would fit well. It also gave the clients some space to re­flect on de­ci­sions that we made, and pro­vide very valu­able feed­back.

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