Simon Devitt

The site was a steep basin sloping down to the northeast, facing a sheltered bay on the eastern side of Waiheke Island. Two 100 year old Pohutakawa trees marked the transition from the earth to the sea. Three other houses occupy the bay, the adjoining house I designed in 2004 for another client.

The clients were an expat family residing in the UK who wished to re-establish their links with New Zealand so that their children could experience life in the natural environment far from the metropolis of London. The brief was, in their own words, ‘a brief for a flat site…but on a cliff’. It was extremely challenging to execute without undertaking massive excavations or designing a house that was dislocated from the landscape.

The resulting design followed the contour of the hill, benching the slope through three levels. This resulted in a series of spaces that interacted with the ground level vertically and were displaced, running back up the hill while still remaining contained under one simple hipped roof form. The parti was carefully considered to link the various functions with the appropriate ground level stepping up the hill, in terms of the direction of the view and the path of the sun. An additional restraint was a 6.0 metre height limit that followed the level of the ground.

The house is formed under a simple hipped roof, cut in half following the contour of the hill. It follows the original line of the ground level at the maximum height permitted. Located on the mid level, the entry leads one to the centre of the house into a triple-height atrium that leads down to the living level below. Three bedrooms are arranged around this central atrium. Also on this level is the garage/boathouse, which was conceived as a dual-use ‘fale’ space that could be occupied in the afternoon hours to make the most of the evening sun. The living area opens onto a small lawn and swimming pool with a direct connection to the beach below. The beach, shaded by the Pohutakawa trees, is seen as the lowest level of the house and is well occupied during summer! The highest level of the house, in the peak of the hipped roof, is a bunk room with space for 7 to sleep. This area opens onto a western deck and connects the house back to the hill above.

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