Andy Watson Architecture was engaged by the owners to design a new home that would not only meet their brief but also address the challenging environment of the location.

The 10-acre property was situated on the rolling hills of Tai Tapu on the foothills of Port Hills outside of Christchurch; it was a bit of a homecoming for both the architect, Andrew Watson and his clients. Returning to their home province after years in Australia, the empty nest couple sought a year-round house for themselves with room for visitors. Watson knew the area well since his parents owned a farm there.

According to Watson, the clients gave a detailed planning brief as well as a certain freedom to design around it. It was important to maximise views while minimising environmental impact; since his parents lived in the area, Watson was aware that the prevailing easterly could rip through the valley. He decided to bunker the house into the landscape, allowing the wind to roll over the top. The long skinny building faces west, giving living rooms at one end the northern sun, while the master bedroom is tucked in and protected at the south end.

Some of the standout design features in the home include a lower garage and entry level dug into the contours of the land, so that the house appears to disappear into the surrounding hills; sheltered courtyard on the upper living floor excavated into the eastern side providing a serene outdoor space protected from the nor’westers; and hyper-insulation using double glazing, solar blinds and venting windows on the south to control air flow in the extremes of winter and summer.

The materials palette chosen for the house highlights its sculptural form: a slick black wedge of Swiss Pearl panels against monolithic natural plaster in white; both the entry driveway and upper courtyard finished in the same plaster; and timber decking and raw, minimal planting for the landscaping.

The house takes on a Scandinavian look with white walls and pale oak floor. In contrast, the fireplace wall creates a sense of drama while separating the living and dining rooms. The fireplace is in a black insert of stone, framed by black steel on each end.

The drama created by the Escea DX1500 double sided gas fireplace is further emphasised using careful lighting design by Jane Purdue. About 80 percent of the warmth is created by the fireplace’s vents, with the ambience of the flame more for cosy appearance.

Photographer: Mark Scowen