Architecture and design: Room with a view

By Element

Photo / Ted Baghurst
Photo / Ted Baghurst

For much of last century and for a good part of the one before that, the small settlement of Matakana, 65 kilometres north of Auckland, enjoyed a bucolic existence devoid of notoriety.

Things changed in the early 1990s when property developer Richard Didsbury bought some land in the middle of the township and, working with architect Noel Lane, hatched his scheme for Matakana Village, a bijoux destination for the Range Rover set.

As affluence has spread, so has architecture. The Matakana hinterland is fertile
territory for Auckland's architects, and the district is producing a rich crop of a modern variety grafted on to that traditional building stock, the humble New Zealand

A house designed by Peter Eising and Lucy Gauntlett of Pacific Environments on
a peninsula near Matakana expresses both the latter-day condition of the district and the contemporary state of beach architecture.

The house sits on a site formerly occupied by an old cottage; that building, itself transplanted from another location, has been moved to an adjacent section.

The new house is sited to take advantage of a 270-degree panorama of the Hauraki Gulf. It's a view house, but the architects were conscious that the prospect is not the only point of the place.

Eising describes the house as a "family retreat", and in line with this characterisation the building is composed of two intersecting forms: a pavilion for living that faces the sea, and another for sleeping that points inland. Mostly perch, the house also serves as nest.

The footprint of the open-plan living pavilion is greatly extended by a terrace sheltered by a dramatic horizontal roof form supported at its front edge by a pair steel columns the architects call the "chopsticks".

These slender steel legs are rather reminiscent of the red 'pukeko' columns that elegantly support the bridge over the Northern Gateway section of State Highway 1, north of Orewa. Perhaps we're seeing the emergence of a regional design trope to rival Canterbury's 'prickle' roofs and the turret architecture of 1970s Wellington?

The sparseness and simplicity of the plan express the architects' early concept of the house as a 'campsite'. Things moved on from that design approach - with its concrete floor and steel roof the house is a long way removed from an ephemeral settlement - but much of the spatial casualness survives, and it suits the coastal locale and benign climate. It obviously suits the clients, too: what was going to be their weekend retreat has become their primary residence.

Glazing and gazing

Like most contemporary coastal houses this Matakana house has a lot of glass. It has less than it might have had, as it was built before the new double-glazing code came into operation. Glass can be an issue in the modern coastal house, where light and view compete against temperature control and comfort. How much view do you want, and therefore how much glass do you need? In this house, the extended brim of the roof offers protection against glare and heat, while enabling the architects to maximise the sea views.

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