Jerome Buckwell: We rarely do projects this small these days, but I knew this couple would create something special. A piece of architecture that was appropriate and responsive to the site, location and context. The clients are friends of mine, our kids go to the same school on Waiheke, and they wanted to extend their existing home. They had a big section with a relaxed, modest, two-bedroom house. It made for pretty compact living – kids sharing a bedroom and all that.
They didn’t have a huge budget, so it had to work hard. They wanted the extension to include two bedrooms, a bathroom and an office space. Since the original home’s footprint is a perfect square, we followed its lead by designing, on the diagonal, another perfect square, then linking the two on the diagonal, with a beautiful bridge structure that meets each building on a corner and creates a sheltered courtyard between the two. You come out of the original house, around the courtyard and into an open living space, leading to two identical bedrooms, one on each corner. Because you come in on an angle, you don’t see the stair until you come right into the space; upstairs is a mezzanine and the bathroom.
The original concept was inspired by the unique rock formations at nearby Ōmiha Bay. It’s really striated, and we wanted to do something that talked to that banded narrative. Looking at sustainable, natural materials, our initial cladding discussions were around clay or terracotta tiles, but eventually, we landed on this cedar shingle. I like how it travels up the building in a series of contours, like the lines running through that Ōmiha rock.
For the interior, all the walls are coming in at different angles, so we couldn’t just run the birch ply sheets from bottom to top because nothing would align. Instead, and Tomik Architectural Builders did the most extraordinary job here, we designed a series of horizontal bands that run around the room. As they go up the wall, the scale changes, getting longer or wider in each row. The result is almost like we’ve created a contour map within the building. If you look closely, you can also see a subtle colour change between the inner and outer walls that we achieved using natural wood stain.
The existing house already captured fantastic views north and west towards Pūtiki Bay, the city and Rangitoto, but it missed the amazing aspects to the south and east, so we positioned the windows in the new building to capture them. The view unfolds as you ascend to the mezzanine, the overhead skylight continuing right to the floor, guiding your view from the sky down to the land and sea. With a second skylight and a recessed window up here, you really are on top of the ridge, experiencing this 360-degree view.
The whole thing was what we call a place-based response. This building simply could not go anywhere else. It was designed around these views, this topography, this climate and these clients. Take the bridge, for instance; it forms the link between existing and new but also creates a windbreak from Waiheke’s chilling southerlies. It can be opened up entirely on a hot day for natural ventilation or closed to form the backbone of the north-facing courtyard. I think that in Aotearoa, we need to consider the unique character of our sites in order to create enduring, considered, and appropriate architecture.