Higher Ground

Young Architects battled tough terrain when designing this robust Ōtautahi family home.

Higher Ground

Young Architects battled tough terrain when designing this robust Ōtautahi family home.

When architect Greg Young began designing this family home on the Scarborough hillside in Ōtautahi, Christchurch, there were two parties to appease. The first was the clients, a family of five with a modest roster of requirements. The second was the land, which proved far more demanding. 

“The site is about as steep as you can work on before you start rolling down the hill,” says Young. Collaborating with colleagues Andy McLeod and Blake McCutcheon, it wasn’t just the gradient the trio had to contend with. The site was difficult to access, and had tight planning constraints, partially unstable ground and bedrock. But with views like these, you do whatever it takes. 

The layout steps down the hillside in three stacked pavilions. The top form holds the main entrance, garage and office; the living and dining areas sit below that; while the four bedrooms rest on the bottom floor. All the clients asked for was a low-maintenance home that embraced the view, so materiality was vital. In-situ concrete and floor-to-ceiling glazing were a natural choice, especially since most of the house is built into the hill. “We carried the concrete into as many areas as possible to meet that ‘low-maintenance’ request,” explains Young. “But too much concrete can be cold and boring, so we included a timber shuttered detail to add interest, variation and life.”

Though the 30-degree gradient proved challenging, the views along the coast and across the city to the Southern Alps were a generous reward. Young pulled some unique moves in capturing them, including in the central pavilion where a wall of custom windows by Altherm spans the width of the room. The panels are butted together without any joins. Instead, they’ve been strengthened with structural glass fins to create a completely unobstructed outlook. “It’s effectively frameless. You can look at that window from any angle and see through it,” says the architect. 

This glass-fronted façade means the main deck is tucked around the side of the home, connected to the living area through Altherm Metro Series sliding doors in Matt Black. “The internal views are really expansive on a day-to-day basis, so having that more enclosed external space allows you to stand out there and feel comforted, rather than exposed,” says Young. A generous outdoor fire means the family can enjoy the open space year-round. 

Tricky sites often demand unconventional solutions. For Young, that meant turning to commercial construction methodology to cope with the vast amounts of concrete and structural steel. “I think the structure is quite commercial, while the dressing of those materials is residential,” he says. A warm, timber-rich interior offsets the robust shell. The carpentry is flawless, with three timbers seamlessly interchanging between ceiling, walls and floor. “Rather than a sterile white plasterboard and concrete box, the timber just feels better,” says Young. Taking a pause, he continues. “You go into a project knowing how a house is going to work, but what I am actually the most thrilled about with this place is how it feels.”


To see more of this project, visit altherm.co.nz/higher-ground

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