Kerr Ritchie Architects designed this home for a ceramicist and her family on a precipitous Dunedin site. Simple forms and practical materials connect with the port and harbour, while elegant proportions provide beauty and grace. Text Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie Photography Paul McCredie.
This Dunedin home for a couple and their young daughter occupies a unique perch on the Otago Peninsula with spectacular views to Dunedin city, the harbour, port and hills beyond. The site is so steep, and access so tricky, it was impressive that the owners could see it was a site at all. It is what architects refer to as ‘an architect’s site’ as they tend to be the only people able to see the potential. The owners, however, had already envisioned a dwelling and done some impressive native planting on the land.
The client asked for a compact, economical home that would have space for family to stay at times but otherwise be just what they needed – one bathroom, relatively small bedrooms, and an open-plan living space. Their only other request was to have access to the land from the house.
A reasonably tight budget on a steep site meant the siting of the house was critical. Although we looked at various options, ultimately a simple linear form traversing the steep slope was the logical approach. Finding good relationships with the land is at the heart of our design philosophy, particularly on steep sites. In the traditional hierarchy the landscape is subservient, being merely the ground on which the architecture rests. We like the relationship to be more than that – for the landscape to move inside architecture and for the building, in turn, to affect the topography.
The planning is simple. Entry to the house is via a centrally located ramp that forms a slot between the right of way and the house. The ramp isolates the land from the building (obviating the need for expensive waterproofing), and is also partly formed by a structural wall that is anchored into the bedrock.
From the entrance, taller public living spaces extend to the east, culminating in a partially enclosed deck – an ‘outside living room’ – that forms a good connection to the land. To the west, a few steps lead up to the more private spaces. This simple move, of changing floor level, gives the home a greater character. Carefully selected views that enlarge one’s sense of scale, and a recessed nook deck at the entry, are features that take thought but don’t add unduly to cost.
We enjoy playing with scale and outlook in this way. As you walk through the house in plan and section, space shifts from snug to open and back again. We work carefully with the cross-section, as it’s how you actually experience a building – moving through it, rather than standing on a plan.
Modest in scale, form and budget, this home was created for the client’s needs and nothing more. Fortunately, the client’s aesthetic in her ceramic work is both elegant and functional so we seemed always to be on the same page. The building is clad mainly in cost-effective steel tray, but this was reverse-run to create an interesting and solid-looking profile. The white timber areas are painted pine weatherboards – another cost-effective option.
The interior finishes are equally pared back. The flooring is clear-sealed Strandboard, a finished product that needs no extra overlay. Doors and some interior joinery, such as the large window seat at the front corner of the house, are also Strandboard. Other joinery is prefinished laminate-faced ply in black and grey and walls are finished in simple white paint to display art at its best.
The kitchen is very simple and runs along one wall only, with a simple box shelf to finish. There is no ubiquitous island bench, but a central table and box window seat to extend the feeling of space and bring in the view. There is no great advantage in using expensive materials everywhere just because you can afford to. It’s the juxtapositions that make a house interesting.
For a location not known for balmy weather it is a warm, energy-efficient house oriented to the north. It has a low impact on both the environment and the neighbourhood, and is a simple but elegant place to live.
Kerr Ritchie Architects is a Queenstown-based mixed-discipline studio focused on an integrated and collaborative design process. We respond to the parameters of site condition, brief and budget to develop designs that attempt to sculpt interior, exterior space and land form into a flexible and efficient whole. Our goal is to be innovative, to achieve the maximum design value for our clients’ budget and enhance their lifestyle.
Originally published in The Design Guide issue 5, 2015.