Andrew Meiring designs a barely there bach on Aotea Great Barrier Island with the vagaries of wind and weather in mind.

Open & Shut

Open & Shut

Just before construction began on this Aotea Great Barrier Island bach, there was a very real moment when the client considered throwing in the towel. As a longtime off-islander, Sally Souness had owned the empty section behind her Medlands Beach holiday home for some time and was finally planning a guest house for the tricky site. “It was a marginal piece of land,” architect Andrew Meiring says bluntly. “There were about five metres of flat ground, then it fell away immediately down a very steep sand dune that had no capacity to be built on.” Working around this precarious terrain, he crafted a design that responded fully to the environment — and then the geotech report came in. 

It called for piles up to nine metres underground to guarantee stability. Moreover, since usual pile-driving methods wouldn’t work (the sand would simply cave in when digging holes) specialty steel screw piles would need to be drilled directly into the earth. The resulting subterranean support system would measure roughly three times the height of the bach. For such a small-scale project, the work and costs seemed disproportionate. “But then we realised that without doing the work, you couldn’t build on the site,” says Meiring, so he rephrased the proposal for the client. “I said, don’t look at this as part of the building; look at it as making the site buildable.” Justification made, they pushed on. 

Named Black Bird Bach, the guest accommodation spreads across two forms: the mother and her chick. The mother’s wedge-like silhouette was an organic response to the site’s long, skinny strip of buildable land. It houses a living space, kitchen, open dining area, fire, bathroom, plant room and outdoor shower – everything the client’s revolving roster of guests could need. There’s plenty of room in here to transform the living space into a makeshift sleeping area, but the main bedroom lies in the smaller “chick” pod just down the slope. “I liked the idea of making it a bit like glamping, where you have to work a little bit and get out into nature to go anywhere,” says Meiring of this intentional separation. “It also meant that if the client ever wanted to add another pod on, you could easily just scatter a few more across the site.” The chick is positioned with its back to the sea to avoid the intense heat of the morning sun and offer privacy; the view from the bed is a straight shot down the valley below.

The bach sits on the dune’s ridgeline with ocean views out the front and the bush-cloaked valley behind. Meiring wanted to address both aspects but knew he’d have to be resourceful with the confined footprint – so he punched a hole right through the middle. “The idea was that if we put the outside living space in there, it could operate in both directions,” the architect explains. Using sliding pearlescent corrugate screens, rather than a solid wall, the protected living area is open to that duality but easily closed to the wind. Tucking the barbecue and outdoor fire in here means it’s equally as enticing in the cooler months, which allows the bach to artfully sidestep the trap of becoming a summer-only escape. 

No items found.

“It’s really just a doorstop with a hole in the middle,” Meiring says of the pared-back design. Settling on materials that were “nothing fancy, just good solid stuff that will last and do its job”, the bach is wrapped in a durable, low-maintenance black corrugated iron shell with a softer plywood interior. There are no complicated flashings or rooflines; instead, the flues and solar panels add interest to the sloping façade. The architect also focussed on the relationship between the mother and chick’s silhouettes, playing with configurations until he landed on this one. Where he did incorporate a little flair was the sliding translucent screens, designing the bracing in a motif, creatively interpreting the necessary elements “to give it a little bit of personality”, rather than introducing superfluous aesthetic add-ons. 

Meiring’s experience designing houses for the island has served him well in this project. He understands the land, wind and sun, and how the charm of its isolation equates to added cost and considerations when building. “For one thing, you really need to think about who is on the island and work with the people and materials that are out there because you don’t want to be flying subcontractors out for every little thing,” he says. For this project, the kitchen was shipped over from Auckland preassembled in three pieces – the builder simply pushed it into place. There were no cabinet makers, no tilers and no flooring installers. “The Barrier consideration,” Meiring calls it, praising the capability and adaptability of the contractors on the island.

The plant room is just another off-grid obligation. Here, the utility area tucks behind a wing wall at the back of the bach, housing a back-up generator, the solar system and hot-water system, and a bit of storage. The outdoor shower hangs off the back of the deck too, its covered entry guaranteeing guests a dry towel once they’re done bathing under the stars.

It took a genuine feat of engineering to nestle Black Bird Bach onto its once-precarious perch. Now it’s here, Meiring thinks the design could translate to other sites across Aotearoa, so he’s in the early stages of packaging the design as a predrawn and specified building. “It would offer something to the market that doesn’t require a huge amount of consultation,” he explains. “I’d select everything; design all of the cabinetry and the fittings, so you’ve got the full architectural service in a pack. You can add or subtract pods; the only thing updated every time would be the foundations.” Safe to assume that none will prove as challenging as the prototype.

No items found.

1. Deck
2. Outdoor Dining
3. Plant Room
4. Toilet
5. Shower
6. Dining
7. Kitchen
8. Living
9. Living (Mezzanine)
10. Bedroom

Related Stories: