Stevens Lawson: Sculptural Exploration

Winner of 20 prestigious national NZIA Architecture Awards and the Home of the Year a record four times, Stevens Lawson is clearly doing things right. Images Mark Smith

Our aim, they say, is to produce an architecture of humanism and spirit, culture and community. They have been doing so since partners, Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson formed the practice in 2002. 

Rawene House: National Winner 2018 NZIA Residential Award
This house rests at the harbour’s edge in the leafy Auckland suburb of Westmere.
Our client was committed to eastern spirituality and nourishment of the soul and our role was to interpret this in a New Zealand context with a house that belonged to this place. We aimed to create an earthy and soulful home, a place of spiritual
calm and a peaceful haven in the city.
A rough, textured insitu cast concrete wall forms a spine, defining the ridgeline and the circulation flow through the house. Landscaped courtyards open off either side allowing sunlight, air and nature into the heart of the house. The steeply angled roof planes and peripheral walls are clad in cedar shingles, like a feather cloak
draped over the structure.
The living areas overlook the waterfront, while spaces for sleeping, yoga and music open onto private courtyards. Full height glazing gives a sense of transparency, allowing the presence of the harbour to be felt throughout the house.
It is envisaged that the house will play host to meditation retreats
and spiritual workshops.
This is also a healthy house specifically designed to minimise toxins and electromagnetic radiation. Natural materials, finishes and hand made products have been used throughout; while the structure is made from timber, with no structural steel.
Employing passive design principles, the house includes photovoltaic cells, rainwater harvesting, LED lighting, and a charging station for an electric vehicle.

Speaking to Claire McCall for Viva in 2013, they said,  the bottom line is that we enjoy working together. “Perhaps it’s because we both love architecture from all eras and periods, and of all styles. We push each other creatively and it’s an entirely enjoyable pursuit. There’s no friction, just this compulsion to take the whole enterprise to a new level. Over time, we’ve become stronger at taking a concept and working it in its purest form. That’s not to diminish the projects we were doing in the earlier years. We love all the houses we’ve worked on – it’s just that, naturally, you build on experience.”

And Nicholas: “When we’re designing, it’s such a quick-fire interchange, so much so that our roles are not distinct. One of us will have an idea that the other elaborates on and that may be reversed in the next project or even within the same project, so it’s a fluid process, constantly morphing. It just works and when we’ve tried to analyse it, it hasn’t felt accurate or helpful.”

They both have a strong interest in visual things and making things look particular ways but over the top of they prioritise the functionality of things, how they feel and work, and how the plans work.

Rock House: Auckland Winner 2015 NZIA Residential Award
The house is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the cricket fields of Melville Park in Epsom. Our adventurous clients, in their 70s and 80s, had an impulse to build one last house which they refer to as their ‘departure lounge’. They sought a home which was exciting yet comfortable and big enough to accommodate family and friends. It was a courageous endeavor on their behalf considering the difficult and inhospitable nature of the site, but they were up for the challenge. As architects we were excited by this and explained that difficult sites made for interesting architecture. The site resembled a quarry more than a suburban plot with a monolithic volcanic outcrop at its core.
This large rock forms the centre-piece of the house design, a geological artifact enclosed within a vitrine, with living spaces wrapping around and over the top.
The top level contains the living areas and main bedroom and opens out to sunny decks with views across the park to Mt Eden. This affords our clients the ease of single level living for the majority of the time. The three levels are connected by a lift, allowing disabled access from the garage to the top floor living areas and to the mid-floor home cinema, study, laundry and guest areas. Formally, the tent-like metal roof and walls are folded over and around the central volcanic rock creating angular sculpted spaces between. Natural light falls through ceiling apertures accentuating the contrast between the lightness of the skin and the weight of the earth.

There is a style to the practice’s work, but it’s not something they consciously cultivate. It comes out of the process of design. They try to experiment with each project in terms of the language of the materials and the forms they use. So their work has become more sculptural as they explore organic sculptural plans and forms in many of their projects.

In Situ House: National  Winner 2015 NZIA Residential Award
A remarkable house by any measure, this massive residence is the fruit of a bold vision by both practice and client and an approach to building and engineering — including a massive in situ concrete pour into moulds fashioned from Victorian architraves — that pushed at all technical boundaries previously established in this country’s residential projects. As such it is a standout house, of a quality and aspiration that may not be seen again for quite some time. The interiors are an exercise in high control and restraint —restricting itself to the repeated use of concrete also poured into intricate Victorian moulds, wood paneling with the same patterning, bronze, stone and handmade
tiles in the beautiful bathrooms.
The house is a rare accomplishment.
Headland House: National Winner of 2013 NZIA Residential Awards
Home of the Year Award
The house sits on a headland above Onetangi Beach on Waiheke Island. The compact site slopes away steeply to the rocky coastline below. Our clients are expat New Zealanders who live increasingly on Waiheke for part of the year. They asked for an informal house with a beach side atmosphere which was sensitive to the landscape
and did not dominate the ridge line.
Our thinking for this project was based around a loose interpretation of, and reference to, the fortified Maori Pa forms historically found on prominent headlands, coupled to ideas based on collections and clusters of stones, driftwood or shells
often found on beaches.
This thinking led us to creating an open, organic plan that explores the idea of fluid space ‘held’ between more solid forms. The design offers open, flowing & boundary-less living space contrasted with more focussed and enclosed cave-like retreats for lounge and bedroom areas. Each pod form frames distinct views of coastline and seascape providing specific focus within the 270 degree view the headland affords. The atmospheres of the design stay true to the concept with the flowing, minimal interstitial space contrasted with the textured, woody pod forms to create a home
offering at once intimacy and openness.
The design of the house, as an organic collection of smaller forms, shows sensitivity to the landform of this prominent headland and empathy with the scale and form
of the traditional baches on Waiheke.
Te Awamutu House: Winner 2013 Waikato NZIA Award
This compact two bedroom house occupies a rear site adjacent to a school in Te Awamutu. Our client was seeking a fresh design which was spatial
and visually inventive, and which engaged with her garden in an interesting way.
The design takes as its starting point a rectangular modernist box which is then carved out with arcing walls that orientate the house to the landscape, the sun and the entry. These arcs shape a free flowing living space at the heart of the house, which opens out to garden courts to the east and west for morning and afternoon sun.