The site, if you lie down behind the first row of sheltering dunes is a very hot north-facing bowl tucked between the jumbled rows of linear dunes facing the expanse of the Tasman Ocean. It was traversed around its edge contour by a worn sandy path that took you through the pass of the dunes to the expansive sandy beach with its line of waves parallel with Kapiti out to sea. I can still smell the Carex grass and the thorny matagouri under the baking sun.
John and Sara had parked a container for use as a weekend bach on the edge of this bowl and used to sunbath on the roof and sit up on top to view Kapiti Island in the evening.
Peter Buchanan in an essay in the A.R. suggested people who have migrated by sea such as those around the Pacific rim have developed as tension cultures (lightweight) as opposed to compression cultures (heavy) where buildings, as in Europe, are constructed of stone and brick in order to defy nature and time. Rather than resist nature, tension cultures build with lightweight renewable elements to bend with the earthquakes or wind and ride out the storms.
I would describe our ‘tectonic intent’ as articulating these elements of construction; often we view the earth/dunes as another element. We detail the heavy weight elements differently to the lightweight parts so we try to put the stereotomic and tectonic parts in opposition. The combination of these different forms can give security of enclosure as well as flexibility to engage with or retreat from the land as mood and climate allow. We wanted to preserve the two atmospheres - the sheltered bowl and the exposed views of Kapiti Island.
In this project we positioned the house across the path to the sea- with access each side to the separate ground floor studios. (The sand dunes can come right up and into the house though some of this immediacy has been lost in the landscaping-with the more standard concrete pavers pebbles etc being laid.) On the concrete raft foundation we built a heavy weight base from 200 wide stack bonded concrete blocks (left exposed) to support a large cantilevered viewing platform supported on 310 UB galvanised painted steel beams. On top of this we set out some portal frames to support a ‘taut’ deep trough aluminium canopy with slender outrigger steel props. Under the canopy we positioned the timber-framed pods clad in bandsawn agricultural plywood - left to go grey. Cars are parked away from the house. Each level is separately entered. There is no internal stair. We tried to keep the construction and the planning elemental.
The house also explores how the 'verandah' can be maximised i.e. the space between inside and outside extended (an analogy with the intertidal zone between the high tide and low tide lines) so that day to day living has a stronger affinity with the site.
“Walking from the living pod to the sleeping pod forces you to go outside” on your way you can see the stars and hear the ocean. For some this might be inconvenient to live this way, but for us it’s what living here is all about”
Owners_John and Sara
The original shipping container faced directly north. The first version of the house ran parallel with the tide line, the dunes and the foot-hills behind. This was modified by pointing the house more into the prevailing strong north-westerlies (much like a sailboat) and facing the long axis more directly to Kapiti (WSW) in order to increase the shelter of the outdoor spaces. The owners wanted he house positioned as high as possible on the dunes to make the most of the outlook.
“We didn’t have any preconceptions how it would look- ”We wanted an element of surprise”
Owners_John and Sara
The simplicity of the pods and an articulated layered construction inspired by Jean Prouve generated the ideas behind this look out.-' a pioneer construction in a pioneer land'!
64 Paetawa Road, Pekapeka for John Schiff and Sarah Whiten_completed 2001
Architecture_Architecture Workshop Ltd
Structural_Dunning Thornton Consultants Ltd
Main Contractor_Brian Cameron
Design Team_Christopher Kelly, James Fenton, Adam Thornton, Nigel Gilkinson.
NZIA NZ Architecture Award, 2005
NZIA Local Architecture Award, 2003
Home & Entertaining House of the Year Finalist, 2002
Barrie, R. (2006, October/November). Primitive Culture: Residential Special. Monument. (75). pp. 64-75
Johnson, Anna & Black, Richard (2016, Oct). Living in the Landscape. pp. 48-53
McCall, C. (2017, April/May). 15 years ago: Peka Peka house. Home New Zealand. pp. 156-157.
Walsh, J. (2007, March). Journey Man. House New Zealand. (03). pp. 89-104