The Wellington landscape continues to inspire architects to produce stunning homes. Angela Foster celebrates the most recent winners of the New Zealand Architecture Awards and reminds us how the best architecture can help us define — or redefine — our own lives.

NZIA Awards: Homes that dreams are made of

Haunui House_View towards north over Porirua Harbour_1 of 6Some see archi­tec­ture as a glam­or­ous pro­fes­sion. It is. Although we are often up late think­ing about that geni­us detail, we have fun because we touch people’s lives. And it’s in the design of houses where we like to demon­strate our inspir­ing ideas. It is also the place where we have the most impact, in the archi­tec­ture of the ‘every­day’, as demon­strated by the pop­ular­ity of the tele­vi­sion show Grand Designs.

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When design­ing Wel­ling­ton houses we are graced with the most amaz­ing and diverse back­drops that provide the ‘chal­lenge-obsessed’ archi­tect with a dare to cre­ate an exper­i­ence befit­ting the land­scape. It’s is also an oppor­tun­ity to shape every facet of the ‘home’ exper­i­ence, from street pres­ence to the intim­ate spaces, under the most com­plex site con­di­tions. Part of cre­at­ing this exper­i­ence is the oppor­tun­ity to empower those explor­ing ‘house’ as a place to ‘dwell’.

Archi­tects who have accep­ted the chal­lenge, and been cri­tiqued by their peers, have been rewar­ded with New Zea­l­and Archi­tec­ture Awards by the New Zea­l­and Insti­tute of Archi­tects (NZIA). Giv­en annu­ally, these awards cel­eb­rate the most innov­at­ive, impress­ive and con­sidered designs in the region. Below is a sample of some of last year’s win­ners who have designed and built homes that will stand the test of time.

01 Exterior Elevation   Included in these awards is Gor­don Moller, for endur­ing archi­tec­ture. Moller is an estab­lished and well-respec­ted archi­tect who has been the author of beau­ti­ful homes for over 45 years. Arin­dam Sen, awards jury mem­ber for 2013, made the com­ment of Moller’s own home, designed in the mid-1980s, “it remains an excep­tion­al work of archi­tec­ture”. The house is a series of rich spaces that focus on the out­doors and is grouped around a court­yard that can be opened up or battened down to face the unpre­dict­able and uncom­prom­ising storms that can hit the Kapiti coast. It is these accol­ades, after dec­ades of con­stant inhab­it­a­tion, that archi­tects strive for.

Like Moller, some archi­tects chose to use a material’s qual­it­ies to play a key role in defin­ing spaces. The mater­i­al selec­tion reflects how their cli­ent may want to use the space, how they may want the space to make them feel, or how they want the room to relate to the land­scape bey­ond. The East­bourne House by Tennent+Brown uses this notion of the ‘con­sidered palette’ to define and emphas­ise space eleg­antly. The use of unpre­ten­tious cedar and con­crete cre­ate beau­ti­ful, bright interi­ors that make use of the light to cre­ate warm, cosy spaces. The house has out­stand­ing out­door space and in Wel­ling­ton we all know this means stand­ing up to the fierce ele­ments of an exposed site. In this instance, this irres­ist­ible and com­pel­ling shel­ter can also turn inwards on itself and focus on an enclosed garden.

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Anoth­er pro­ject that takes on a chal­len­ging site and makes the most of it is Box Living’s Cor­rondella pro­ject. This small hide­away is perched in a clear­ing between a storm­wa­ter drain and steep bush-clad hills. By adopt­ing a mod­u­lar box approach, which has become the company’s trade­mark, the archi­tect has embed­ded this house into the site. Using changes in levels, small nooks, and court­yards as exten­sions to space, the house appears lar­ger than its actu­al foot­print. Box Liv­ing has fash­ioned an eleg­ant sequence of rooms that response to site and brief. It is in the focus on sim­pli­city and detail where it mat­ters that Cor­rondella provides evid­ence that cost effect­ive­ness need not be the con­struc­tion of a stand­ard­ised plan. Through clev­er design and a rig­or­ous pro­cess, bespoke can pro­duce an eleg­ant and soph­ist­ic­ated home on budget. As a res­ult, the site has been max­im­ised and the dwell­ing designed to give rise to inspir­ing private views and sun-filled spaces: a warm little bush retreat in which to take res­pite from urb­an frenzy.

The bach and asso­ci­ated con­nota­tions of relax­a­tion over a beer — or Pinot — have reju­ven­ated a typo­logy that favours open-plan liv­ing and a rela­tion­ship with the land­scape. In the Par­a­pa­raumu House, Geoff Fletch­er Archi­tects has cre­ated an eleg­antly framed visu­al link to the exter­i­or via an under­stated form. This con­tain­er, anoth­er built on a budget, is an addi­tion to a clas­sic Kiwi bach. The soph­ist­ic­ated and unfussy detail­ing draws the lush bush in, to be absorbed and appre­ci­ated from a beau­ti­fully sculp­tured interi­or. A splash of col­our is used spar­ingly and only to reit­er­ate the fram­ing of the bush­s­cape. To enhance andHaunui House_Media Space_5 of 6com­plete the soph­ist­ic­ated extern­al form, the build­ing hov­ers over the land­scape on slender poles, a poet­ic solu­tion to con­struc­tion in a flood zone.

From small bach to the large, sweep­ing spaces of a mod­ern home by Bal­lara Bul­man Chin. Here, the archi­tect uses a work­ing farm­house to explore the open plan. To suit the needs of the Mangaroa fam­ily who live here, the build­ing has few walls and a large atri­um over the kit­chen, extend­ing the link to the upper floor. Extern­ally, a sheltered court­yard con­nects to the kitchen/living areas along the build­ing and is a sculp­tured trans­ition between inside and the land­scape beyond.

Some­times it is the bold use of mater­i­al and form that gives the archi­tec­ture its defin­ing char­ac­ter­ist­ics. Here, Kerr Ritch­ie have subtly manip­u­lated floor levels to organ­ise the open-plan liv­ing area, includ­ing a strong use of struc­tur­al form to add detail to both interi­or and exter­i­or. This house has taken over ten years to real­ise, and dur­ing that pro­cess of refine­ment every ele­ment has been per­fec­ted to provide stun­ning spa­tial qual­it­ies, with a care­ful atten­tion to detail.

In keep­ing with the idea of home as retreat, John Mills’ Tui House sits snug­gly in the bush set­ting. As the title sug­gests, it is inspired by the idea of mak­ing one’s home with­in the bush can­opy. Atop its domain, this beau­ti­fully craf­ted tree­house is a res­pite from the hec­tic city. Large decks reside over sweep­ing views, engen­der­ing a quiet envir­on­ment with­in which to relax and also with­draw. Mills’ hall­mark use of col­our has been con­ser­vat­ively applied as subtle shades of green against rich tim­bers. The col­ours rein­force an intern­al bush­s­cape in stained sheets of ply befit­ting this exquis­ite loc­a­tion and con­sidered spa­tial arrangement.

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Anoth­er pro­ject that uses col­our and the view bey­ond, Par­son­son Archi­tects’ Seatoun Heights House is a lovely com­pos­i­tion link­ing inside and out­side through framed view shafts. Due to the elev­a­tion of this site, the own­ers enjoy expans­ive views out over the har­bour while remain­ing sur­pris­ingly sheltered from pre­vail­ing north­erly winds. The top level is a large glazed plat­form, giv­ing rise to a light and warm liv­ing space made rich through the extens­ive use of tim­ber. In con­trast, the lower-floor rooms gain warmth through intim­acy. The smal­ler spaces rely on a rela­tion­ship to land­scape through a con­trolled pan­or­ama to give each room space, focus and a dis­tinct iden­tity. Link­ing both levels is the nuc­le­us, or fam­ily room, which is envel­oped in green, walls and floors. This delight­ful play with col­our punc­tu­ates the trans­ition and lit­er­ally brings the out­side in. It’s ges­ture ques­tions that line between dwell­ing, site and interior.


Wak­ing, sleep­ing, re-cre­at­ing, lov­ing and liv­ing. We spend so much time in our houses that it seems a shame not to make your place of res­id­ence both func­tion­al and a place of interest. The house designs fea­tured in this art­icle play with many con­cepts around how to dwell. With both large and small sites, and large and small budgets, the architect’s aim is to pro­ject the per­sona of the cli­ent through archi­tec­tur­al expres­sion. There’s more to design­ing a house than just bed­rooms and liv­ing rooms under a roof. The house has evolved into spaces that sym­bol­ise the per­son­al, an exhib­i­tion of our tastes, val­ues and even our per­son­al­it­ies. It is a place to ori­ent­ate ourselves, our lives and the lives of oth­ers, through care­ful design that takes into con­sid­er­a­tion every mil­li­metre. The home can become a res­pite that refreshes and inspires, pre­par­ing us for our increas­ingly intens­ive urb­an lives.

A pro­verb from the Tales of the Hasi­dim tells of a tour­ist who paid a vis­it to a renowned rabbi, Chofetz Chaim. He was aston­ished to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a bench.

Rabbi,” asked the tour­ist, “where is your furniture?”

Where is yours?” replied the rabbi.

Mine?” asked the tour­ist, “but I am only passing though.”

So am I,” said the rabbi.

What is home to you?


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