See Life

A new watchtower by Crosson Architects peers out from the dunes of North Piha.

See Life

A new watchtower by Crosson Architects peers out from the dunes of North Piha.

The United North Piha Lifeguard Service has patrolled the beach since 1951, when a basic clubhouse was built using volunteer labour, found or donated materials, and a design by students at the University of Auckland’s architecture school.

For the past couple of decades, the facilities have been long past their use-by date: the original clubhouse was upgraded in 1983 and the watchtower – seen on the club’s logo – sat on slender steel piles up an exposed set of stairs.

In 2007, the club began planning new facilities, including Te Pou – the support building, located behind the dunes – and Te Pae, Heron’s Perch or Horizon, in the dunes. While the new design is striking, its primary drivers were relatively prosaic. “The old set-up and tower were not fit for purpose,” says architect Ken Crosson, of Crosson Architects, who designed the new tower and clubhouse. “We wanted to build something that was durable, functional and low-maintenance.” 

Te Pae is spectacular: eight metres tall, with unobstructed views across the beach, it is built from a series of precast concrete cylinders. “We wanted a building that contrasted but was sympathetic to its context – and yet was a beacon,” says Crosson.

It’s instantly charming, almost humanoid in appearance, like a small, friendly watchman in the dunes. And it’s already made the lifesavers’ work easier: last summer, the club had access to the semi-finished tower. 

Te Pou’s progress has been slowed by Covid lockdowns and cost delays – after decades of planning, work on the new clubhouse starts later this year. No word on whether the club will change its logo soon.

United North Piha Lifeguard Service

unitednorthpiha.org.nz

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