Artistic Expression

Artistic Expression add

It began as a small koru shape sketched over a couple of hours. Five years later the Koru House at Tawharanui north of Auckland, winner of the Auckland - Northland Residential New Home over 300sqm and the People's Choice Award at the 2013 ADNZ | Resene Architectural Design Awards, is a beguilingly simple home unfurling down a gentle slope towards the coastline.

The brief given to designer Graham Sawell of Pyramidz Architecture Design was straightforward enough: a new home on an exposed coastal site with separate areas for living and working (both clients, artist Lindsay Scott and designer picture framer Brian McPhun, work from home) and a private unit for overseas guests. They wanted to make the most of the views over Kawau Bay and Mt Tamahunga and, in keeping with their environmental concerns, incorporate an honest approach to raw materials. "We are both artists," says Scott, "and we wanted it to be what it is - we didn't want it pretending to be anything else."

The obstacles were more complex. The two-hectare coastal site sits on the edge of the Tawharanui Regional Park, a predator-proof "island" bordering a marine reserve. The predominant view over the bay was to the south and, being a highly sensitive zone a height restriction of four metres was in place.

But a long list of known parameters, says Sawell, inspires the best designers. Stretching across New Zealand, the Pacific islands and Japan, Sawell's portfolio, recognised by ADNZ with 40 regional and 40 national awards, straddles a number of coastal and country residential projects with "a sprinkling of tourism ventures and luxury lodges." Now operating from an office in Warkworth he relishes the challenge of a demanding brief. "It is like having the toughest budget or smallest house - they are often the most enjoyable as opposed to a big open canvas on a flat site and no budget."

The resulting koru form, unfurling in a series of curved fronds or nodes, allows for separate living and working units and makes the most of the outstanding views while offering protection from the prevailing south and west conditions. It also conveys a subtle sense of flowering out into the landscape. To comply with the height restriction the roof plane mirrors the natural eight-degree tilt of the land, stepping down the contours of the land while the house itself, says Sawell, "evolves underneath." "So the space above you is changing wherever you walk in the house. It is a design grown in the land, not on the land."

In keeping with the idea of an unfurling frond, the design softens the margins between indoor and outdoor. The large outdoor fire has its indoor counterparts in a log fire set in a limestone wall in the master bedroom and a ceramic fireplace in the studio wing. Similarly the sculpted outdoor stone bath, is matched by, freestanding baths in the master and guest suites.

Built by Rod Cooper from Cooper Construction with joinery by Intext Architectural Systems, the 620m2 home has no frivolous detail. Walls, floors and ceilings are separated by negative detailing while the recurring use of raw materials - exposed concrete, drystone limestone, river stones from the beach and a truckload of recycled jarrah bridge beams (there is barely a splash of paint to be found) - on both sides of the curved glass further dismantles the familiar indoor/outdoor dichotomy.

The environmental credentials of the Koru House are also impressive: passive solar heating (the limestone walls serve as massive heat store units) and ventilation, the use of renewable and recyclable materials, a recycled water collection system and an on-site wastewater system minimises the impact of this low-lying home on the wide-open landscape of Tawharanui Peninsula.

The full article can be found in the latest issue of Defign magazine - out now.

Words by Sally Blundell