There is an honourable tradition in New Zealand home design that strives for lightness, of timber homes resting lightly on the land. I remember my French teacher at high school saying that when she returned to New Zealand after many years in France, the homes in New Zealand looked as if they could all blow away in the next breeze.

One of the finalists in this year's Home of the Year award makes a case for the European sort of solidity my teacher was referring to. The house is by Stevens Lawson Architects (who won the award with their house by Lake Wanaka, which you can see in an earlier post), built for clients who requested concrete for its heft and its low-maintenance qualities. These photographs by Mark Smith show just how solid this home turned out to be. It is located on a harbourside site in Auckland's eastern suburbs. The elevation below faces the water, with the main bedroom on the upper right, the kitchen and dining space below it, and a covered sitting area extending off the living room on the left-hand-side of this image:

The house is just as sculptural at the entrance, at the bottom of a very steep driveway. This shot gives you a good view of the central 'canyon', a glass-topped, double-height hallway that drags light into the centre of the home. (The house is located beside a slope to the north that blocks sunlight for a few hours in the winter, hence the design of the glass-topped volume to admit more light).

The home was designed using pre-cast concrete panels that feature ribbed details best viewed in this shot of the southern elevation:

The monumental exterior means some of the interiors are just as dramatic. This view shows the inside of the 'canyon' with its glass-topped roof. The timber feature is a 'bridge' across this double-height space.
This shot looks from the dining area across to a living room which in turn opens onto the covered exterior sitting area you can see in the first shot of this post. Inside, the material palette has been kept to a simple combination of timber and concrete with slate floors.
Some of the rooms feature surprising and dramatic devices for admitting light, such as the space in the shot below, which can be used as a home theatre or a snug, cave-like hideaway (there is also a slow window looking out to the water just out of the right-hand-side of the frame). The home may seem intimidatingly hefty from the outside, but as you can see, the interior offers a wide range of views and experiences.


So there you have it - an unashamedly heavyweight house. Sure, it runs contrary to the New Zealand timber tradition, but its engagement with the uniquely New Zealand landscape around it means it doesn't feel as if this is anything other than a New Zealand house.

 
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