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The deep-seated joy in architect Pip Cheshire's face is what shines through in a photograph taken on the deck of his Northland bach. Under one arm, he clutches a pillar box red long-board - the tangible tool of a passion he's pursued for 50 years. For Pip, surfing is the raison d'etre of this building, an unadorned plywood box that juts over a foamy coastline. As author of the recently released Architecture Uncooked, he hasn't dwelt on the materiality and design of the structures included in the book but rather on the pure holiday-ness of the bach experience.

Quick to admit that his middle-class upbringing was blessed with a succession of bach visits, his memories centre on the mental and physical journey from city to seaside.

"We'd be cooped up in a car for hours only to bounce out - with the air and sounds around us all changed - and begin to live by the sun, the tides or the snow conditions."

It's this transition from the schedule that school, work and family commitments impose upon us that, he believes, forms the essence of a bach break.

"Something is lost when we build city houses at the beach or in the country," he explains. "It misses the reason for a holiday: that expectation of change - and it's not enough to just change the view."

Indeed, the traditional bach has cemented itself in the New Zealand psyche because it represents an idyll. "It's tempting to see the 50s and 60s as a simpler time, although I'm sure those days were equally confusing."

Notwithstanding, Pip maintains that so many of today's holiday homes miss the point entirely. "People are too concerned with style and the fashion of architecture. They are fixated on acquisition."

Urban designer and vernacular architect Tony Watkins makes the point that a holiday dwelling used to begin with a love of place and grow into something that supported an activity and Pip sees the irony in the mushrooming of towns such as Pauanui and South Omaha with their massed amenities. "They build a house on a lovely piece of land and then wonder what are we going to do here?" he suggests. "So they create a golf course and a boat ramp and their neighbours from town buy a place right next door."

The antithesis to this, he believes, are makeshift structures that, he confesses, may long since have disappeared. From his childhood, he remembers the fishing huts poised between the stop banks of braided Canterbury rivers. Made from found materials, they were used as a base for salmon or trout fishermen, somewhere to throw a sleeping bag or cook the catch. "It seems to me they are the absolute example of a tenuous shelter," says Pip who has first-hand experience of some of his own. As a teenager he would head out of town in search of the perfect wave with "a bit of polythene" as his only protection from the elements, or sleep under his car or an improvised tent of surfboards.

"I once spent a week in Westport when I lived under a shelter of driftwood." In this context, the bach becomes bourgeois territory. "They were the more conservative option, for those who didn't like life under canvas or in a caravan."

In Architecture Uncooked Pip explores the notions of holiday and what a building should provide. He focuses on the social organisation of these homes and asks how much we should remove ourselves from the elements.

"In Sandy Bay, I'm acutely aware of the weather," he explains. Even when sound asleep, this silver surfer has a sixth sense for the rise and fall of the tides. "Should a swell arrive in the middle of the night, I'll be up in the wee small hours, pacing the deck, ready to get out on the waves."

* Architecture Uncooked by Pip Cheshire and photographer Patrick Reynolds is published by Godwit. RRP, $90.