The chiselled form of this courtyard house echoes a landscape of extremes. Architect Dominic Glamuzina discusses the need to address the cold, and embrace the warmth, of Central Otago. Text Dominic Glamuzina. Photography Patrick Reynolds and Sam Hartnett.
Working to a thoughtful brief and rigorous budget, Aaron Paterson and I looked at old building practices to create a house that handles the cold but also engages with its spectacular surroundings. The nearby mountain ranges were our starting point for the shapes and weight the house needed to express, while a courtyard form and dug-in rooms would soften some of the weather extremes.
The site is located in a glaciated valley of Lake Hawea in the Southern Lakes district, with expansive views sweeping from Mount Maude in the north to Lake Hawea and beyond the valley to the east.
The clients had owned the four-hectare block of land – part of a larger subdivided farm – for several years before deciding to build a house for their retirement years. They spent their holidays in an old caravan on the site, braving cold winters in order to acquire a thorough understanding of the environment and outlook.
The clients’ enquiry was refreshingly different: a written rather than a visual brief, in which the house was described as ‘a building, not built on a domestic scale, that might have been part of a bigger building that sits on the ground with weight and permanence’. It identified rooms by their fundamentals – ‘quiet room’, ‘music room’ – specifying their location in terms of proximity to views and monastic separation from other spaces.
Coming from Auckland, we clearly needed to understand the southern context and environment. We studied the language of the early settler buildings in Arrowtown and Central Otago, which utilise low-slung stone construction to deal with the extreme climate, with its Mediterranean summers and bitingly cold winters. Buildings of interest included the original Peregrine winery in Wanaka, which also used stone construction and long gables as means of survival in a testing environment.
We went for a strong, singular form that would accommodate a generous internal courtyard and permit a much larger footprint: a house with more substance and presence, and an internal space providing both seclusion and sun-trap. The courtyard form also allowed us to articulate both the natural and the built environments, giving protection from the prevailing north-easterly and framing the view of both the mountains and the plains. The courtyard is formed by the ‘L’ plan of the house extended with a continuous brick perimeter wall, and with a separate garage defining the corner and entry to the building.
Given the limited budget, we opted for formal and material restraint. The plan of the house incorporates a simple long-run roof extending across the ‘L’ plan and rising to the north-east corner of the house. In combination with the stepping floor slab a spatial scale is projected, graduating from bedrooms to living spaces. In places, rooms are literally part-buried in the ground, evoking a bunker-like motif that feels appropriate to the environment, while also referencing early Maori construction techniques that cut into the ground for protection against the elements.
Seconds from the Canterbury brickworks helped cut the cost of the cladding. And by laying the bricks randomly, rather than uniformly, we were able to wrap the building in a rustic surface that provides a constantly shifting interpretation of scale, as well as a canvas on which the sun projects a texturally absorbing shadow-play.
A smooth concrete plinth wrapped around the perimeter serves both to anchor the building to the terrain and to locate windows and other apertures. A row of birch trees brings movement, colour and contrast into the manmade environment.
The clients wanted a simple palate of materials on the interior of the building. White Gib-board walls are offset by a subtly coloured concrete slab, which forms a backdrop to living in the expansive environment. North-facing windows in the living room and bedrooms are generous with the views; they also admit as much sunlight as possible to warm the concrete floors.
The success of the project is as much about our intentions as architects as it is about the client’s connection to the land, the exuberantly written brief, and the builder’s level of craft. Consideration and time are seldom given their due priority when designing a house, but we were fortunate in having the luxury of both.
Auckland-based architects Dominic Glamuzina and Aaron Paterson designed the Lake Hawea house. After eight years in partnership, they now practise independently, pursuing architectural ideas and theory to find design solutions with intellectual and artistic rigour.