Daniel Marshall Architects: Obsessed with Materiality & Sculptural Form

Carefully engaging physically with a site, architect Daniel Marshall looks with intensity to see what the context reveals. But as the son of an artist and an engineer, he says, his design process has always been more akin to that of an artist than an architect.

What sets you and your practice apart?

The main thing that sets our practice apart is evidenced in our past work, each project is unique – an exploration of the needs and wants of the client and particularly the context of the project. I think architectural practice is either an exploration of concepts or the development of a brand and we definitely fit into the former.

Because we deliberately take on projects with a wide variety of budgets, there are learnings from the extremes that can inform other projects, for example how to imbue luxury into a limited budget and also how to rationalise and control excess in a much larger house. I have always been obsessed with materiality and sculptural form, and how that reacts with the context. Perhaps my process has always been more that of an artist than an architect.

Omaha House
Images: Tash Hopkins

What and who influences you most and how?

Obviously all architects are influenced by other architects work, both from the past and present. I think that the way we are most influenced by architecture is by personal experience, experiencing the space. Whenever I travel I try to visit architect’s own houses. Perhaps the three most influential projects I visited were Luis Barragán’s own house in Mexico City, Oscar Neimeyer’s own house in Rio De Janiero, and Alvar Aalto’s house in Helsinki.

Kopua House, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand 2015
Context – The site was a steep basin sloping down to the north east, facing a sheltered bay on the eastern side of Waiheke Island. Two 100 year old Pohutakawa trees marked the transition from the earth to the sea. Three other houses occupy the bay, the adjoining house I designed in 2004 for another client.
Clients – An expat family residing in the UK who wished to re-establish their links with New Zealand so that their children could experience life in the natural environment far from the metropolis of London. The brief was, in their own words, ‘a brief for a flat site…but on a cliff’. It was extremely challenging to execute without undertaking massive excavations or designing a house that was dislocated from the landscape.
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt

How have your own personal experiences inspired you?

My mother went to Elam art school when I was a child, so I was often sitting in the corner of the studio and was dragged somewhat reluctantly through art galleries. My father was an engineer, and although they separated when I was young, I learnt to inhabit the space in between, which happens to be exactly where architecture exists. When I was about 10 we moved down to Hawkes Bay, and again reluctantly I was dragged to the local catholic church, Our Lady of the Lourdes, one of John Scott’s masterpieces. I think I have spent more time in that beautiful space than any other architect alive, and although the experience did not excite me religiously, it certainly inspired me to become an architect.

Herne Bay, Auckland, New Zealand 2013
The house in Herne Bay is on a north facing slope, looking out over Herne Bay towards the Waitemata harbour. The site is zoned ‘Residential 2’, which recognises the significant heritage and character of the area. An empty site presented a rare opportunity for a contemporary re-conception of the Villa archetype which typifies the surrounds. The house in Herne Bay integrates contemporary New Zealand ideals, design and construction, whilst maintaining much of the language and posture of the well mannered Villa. 
This contemporary concrete construct is sculpturally formed over three levels: the garaging is excavated below; the upper level sits recessively beneath a hipped roof; the mid level is boldly expressed by the horizontal composition of weatherboard impressed concrete fins. The fins abstract the traditional street verandah whilst controlling privacy and filtering light into the spaces within.
Whilst the living spaces are open to the exterior core, bespoke cabinetry and fireplaces create a variety of interior spaces. Living spaces are both grandeur yet intimate, much like the street facing rooms of the traditional villa. 
Image: Simon Devitt

Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt
Image: Simon Devitt

Your approach to architecture?

Glenn Murcutt taught me to carefully engage physically with a site, to look with intensity to see what the context reveals. In this age of information, we have a huge amount of additional information available that can critically inform the conceptual process. We design in a cyclic nature, from sketch drawings on the drawing board, to cardboard models, to computer aided design, and back again. Each step I believe informs the design with another layer of understanding.

Elmstone, Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand 2010
A suburban context – the site splays out from the end of a quiet Auckland cul-de-sac and slopes steeply away towards the North.
The brief was to provide a family home for a young family. It was important to maintain open ground for the boys to play whilst allowing for a vegetable garden. The house was to be as economic as possible as a result of the 400 square metre floor area.
The architectural strategy was to arrange house volumes as densely as possible in a configuration which accounted for the steep site, and to ensure that ample ground remained for the boys. Spaces are arranged vertically over three levels, each with its own distinct outlook toward the garden and pool. The primary form is enclosed beneath a single sloped roof, which allows for a variation of floor and ceiling levels to individualise the spatial experience throughout the home.
Industrial materiality, precast concrete walls and simple concrete floors play against the sophisticated yet subtle detailing of more traditional residential finishes. The placement of concrete elements within the home provide thermal mass to absorb the heat from plentiful northern and eastern sun, in order to regulate the internal temperature of the house. These elements provide a sustainable material that enhances the living environment and quality of space.
The construction allows for the design to reinvent the social character and increases the living quality of the house.
Images: Emily Andrews

Your favourite house that you haven’t designed and why?

Ha, my favourite house is always the one that I haven’t designed! Seriously though, I am really interested in integrating sustainable qualities into the architectural fabric of a home. For a long time there has been a disconnect between Eco Design and Architectural Design, and we need the two to be fused.

It is just sensible to make sure the entire lifecycle of a home relates to the lifecycle of the inhabitants. We are currently looking at designing a house for some European emigres, who have provided a wonderful brief for a house that not only incorporates environmental features such as water collection, solar, natural materials, but also will be designed to adapt to changing needs over time. 

It will be great to design a house that is more responsive to change to both the environmental conditions as well as the cultural context over time.

Korora, Waiheke Island Ridge House
NZIA – Auckland Branch Award
HOME of the Year – Finalist

A ridge, stretching between Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and the pastoral landscape of Waiheke Island, provided a stunning and challenging context in which to design a getaway house which is one day to become a permanent home. The clients are returning to live in New Zealand after a long period in Asia.
The approach was to work within the contour of the ridge in an attempt to minimise the impact on the landscape. The sensitivity of design preserves and enhances the essence of the surrounding landscape. The interconnected series of rooms and courtyards laid across the ridgeline silumtaneously opens out towards the ridgeline on one side, whilst remaining anchored to the earth on the other. A landscape wall clad in local coloured stone splays out from the primary plan form to provide a point of entry to the house, and allows for an excavated garage below the ground line.
Ascending the stair, one arrives at the house via a southern courtyard, welcomed by a dramatic revelation of an ever expansive view through the center of the house towards the horizon, across the Gulf and it’s idylic islands. The enveloped living spaces of the house are arranged either side of this courtyard and its accompanying northern courtyard, which are bridged by a gabled roof stretching across the long axis. The courtyards offer a retreat from the dominant wind and sun whilst allowing a subtle breeze to refresh the interiors.
The materiality of the house draws on two architectural conditions of Waiheke. The masonry forms were inspired by the gun emplacements of Stoney Batter. The use of cedar and plywood reflect precarious weekenders of the island’s past.
Images: Ernie Shackles


How has your work evolved?

When I started out as an architect my technical knowledge was less, and my appetite for risk was much higher. When I start the design process now, I am considering all the knowledge that I have acquired over 25 years of working as an architect.

We recently renovated a house, the Fitzpatrick House, that I designed very early on in my career. I think the priority I placed, on the spatial, material and sculptural qualities, were very much in line with the way I design now. I still really liked the house.

One of the joys of our profession is being on site and gaining insight from the input of incredible tradespeople that have a lifetime of experience that have enabled us to really refine our capability to produce beautiful details. I think the evolution has been in the refinement in the way different materials come together.

Ironically all this knowledge has meant that I find it harder in the initial design process now as I am considering an exponential number of variables more than I did earlier in my career.

What are you working on now and what challenges are you working through?

We are working on a number of houses all at different stages, currently 22 active projects. Thankfully I  have a great team here in the office! The 3 big challenges in our industry are rapidly escalating construction costs, increasingly onerous compliance documentation, and a resistance across the industry to innovation.

These are really big challenges that effect everyone building in New Zealand and require seismic shifts in the legislative, insurance, education and investment structure of our country.We have been finding that building costs have been escalating at around 20% / year over the last several years and that is incredibly challenging for our clients and our practice. We have to be very honest in our communication with clients from the initial meeting about setting realistic expectations.

Your best advice for someone who is about to select an architect to renovate or build a house?

 A really good architect brings enormous value to the process. The architect needs to have the ability to take your brief, along with the restrictions of the site, and organise the programme in ways that others wouldn’t think of. This, along with the professional skills and ethics of an architect add value to the project that far outstrip the professional fees of the architectural process. It is essential that you engage an architect for the full duration of the project, including construction. So often I have seen people naively decide they can manage a construction process themselves and it costs them many times over the fee they should have paid the architect to perform the role.

Ultimately, you should select an architect based on their past work, their enthusiasm for your project, and how well you get on with them and how well you feel that they communicate the process. It is a great idea for potential clients to talk to past clients.

Actually, we have found many times that that initial contact results in a friendship between clients.

To contact Daniel Marshall Architects:


Address Level 1 
472 Karangahape Rd 
Auckland 1010

P.O. Box 78-226
Grey Lynn 
Auckland 1245
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