The house David Mitchell and Julie Stout built for themselves at Freeman's Bay (a suburb of Auckland) takes much of its parti from local nineteenth-century artisan dwellings, but it has been generated with Modernist sensibility, and its precedents are at least as much drawn from the mid-twentieth, when New Zealand produced a most distinguished crop of small houses in timber, distinguished for their handling of space and craftsmanship alike.
The site is long, narrow and slopes quite steeply, like the ones of the neighbouring houses which date from 1850 to 1920. The architects accepted the traditional relationship of house to garden: indeed in such an area, it would have been difficult to have done otherwise, so at its widest point the building comes close to the long boundaries.
The house runs back from the street in a sequence of rooms like a train. The street side, which faces north-east (and hence the sun in New Zealand), has a verandah, a delightful space vaulted overhead by curved lattice, a vine and (partly) translucent fibreglass. The roof of the garage (which is not itself directly connected to the house) forms a platform for this luminous cave which looks down over the street and trees to the city. It gains privacy from its height in the section and from the slatted screens which guard its sides. Auckland has a warm, if rather moist climate, and the owners can spend much of the year on the verandah, but when the weather becomes inclement, they retreat to the dining kitchen, which is amply lit from the sides, and from the verandah itself. The living room, next further back in the sequence, is intentionally darker, or at least lit in a different way. A large glass wall, which can be raised on counterweights, looks out over the fourth main space of the house, a large pool which is enclosed by the house itself on three sides, and by a garden wall at the back of the site. Unless you have a taste for wading, you cannot go into the pool: it is just a volume inhabited by plants, fish and sculpture, and the wooden sitting room floor becomes what the architects call 'a jetty' overlooking it. In many conditions, dappled light is reflected up from the pool into the living room (and into the bedroom above it) so the comparatively dark and secret space almost seems to dance. A slot of light along the fireplace side of the room (and an amusing one low down on the wall next to the hearth) relieve a sombreness that might have been generated by using so much pine in a relatively low section.
Towards the back of the plan, two single-storey rooms bulge out sideways from the two-storey box. One is a study or bedroom, the other a rather elaborate bathroom. Both are partly lit by end walls of translucent fibreglass roofing, and both can look out over the pool through windows with rattan blinds.
Throughout, the simplest and most economical materials have been used. The frame is largely of pinus radiata, locally grown and the cheapest wood available. The exterior grade ply which clads the black double-height box and its white wings that stretch out into the site is also of pinus radiata, as is most of the varnished internal panelling (and the big nailed box-beam over the fireplace, though the joists are of locally grown Douglas Fir). Decking is of local eucalypt and virtually the only imported items seem to be the Western Red Cedar windows and doors, slats and sticks.
The result of all this attention to space, light, materials and technique is not only an economical house, but one that gently and subtly restates the nature of living in a high density Antipodean suburb.
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|Title Annotation:||architectural design|
|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1997|
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