I can’t help but enter into this time of year with a mild form of PTSD. Last year, when we launched our Here Awards, we set out to make a programme that would judge architecture in real time and in person.
Covid had other ideas, and we spent the winter moving dates, shuffling itineraries and – to use the buzzword of 2021 for hopefully the last time – pivoting as our circumstances changed.
So this year, as we set off to judge the houses with our rōpū of Zoe Black, Jack McKinney and Lisa Webb, I kept expecting things to go wrong. As it happened, the judging went mostly to plan. Well, apart from that time I left my carry-on suitcase in the middle of Wellington Airport – one of those moments that makes you grateful you don’t live in the United States, which would no doubt have blown it up – and that other time I backed our rental car into a tree. But you know, what happens on tour...
By the time we got to our last house, Waimataruru, at Ōtama on the Coromandel Peninsula, we were knackered.
The house was designed partly around Japanese garden design principles, one of which is that you never approach anything directly. We walked up a path through the trees and in the door, and when you do that the view opens out in front of you, and the house slowly unfolds. It is a simple form, but your experience of it is complex – nuanced.
It was late afternoon and the light was fading, and we spent longer than we’d intended to in the house – we were reluctant to leave, finding perches around it, wandering back into rooms we’d been in to look at something else, drinking it in.
It’s utterly beautiful, of course – in a restrained, humble sort of way – and while it’s easy to make a false dichotomy between beauty and function, in this case, they come from the same place. The house is how it is because its owners started with the whenua – and wanted to honour it.
It’s built largely from timber, and solar panels provide almost all of the power it uses in a year. Its owners have poured hours, weeks and months into replanting the land with native trees – in fact, they’re almost more concerned with the land than they are the house.
So it was an easy pick for Best House Aotearoa – from memory I think we’d agreed that by the time we got to the bottom of the path, and definitely by the time I’d started the car.
I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoyed visiting it.