Te Kaitaka House Has a Sculptural Shape Inspired by the Alpine Landscape

Te Kaitaka House Has a Sculptural Shape Inspired by the Alpine Landscape

Architects: Stevens Lawson Architects
Project: Te Kaitaka House
Location: Lake Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand
Photography: Mark Smith Photography

Te Kaitaka house is nestled amongst the tussock covered hills of Roy’s Peninsula on the shores of Lake Wanaka, in the South Island of New Zealand. It is situated on the edge of Te Wahipounamu / Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area and Mt Aspiring National Park. The area is renowned for it’s dramatic landscape with large valleys, carved out by ancient glaciers, dissecting high mountain ranges. It is also a Mecca for outdoor leisure activities including hiking, fishing and boating in summer and skiing in winter.

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Our approach was to investigate an architectural language in conversation with the natural environment and local building traditions. Abstracted triangulated geometries and origami-like folds and cuts were employed to create a sculptural form that related strongly to the alpine landscape. This was articulated with reference to the forms and textures of the vernacular timber woolsheds of the area.

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Local planning rules required a building platform that was no greater than 25 metres square. Our design process started with a square piece of paper. It was tilted to create a roof plane that mirrored the slope of the land, then trimmed to fit the undulating landform and to create courtyards to the east and west. The roof plane was sliced on the angle and folded up to form sky-lights, the edges were folded down to form walls enclosing the space within.

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In Maori culture the cloak, Te Kaitaka, is a potent symbol of shelter and nurture. A skin of natural cedar cloaks the raw concrete structure, analogous to the tussock draped over the rocky landscape. The weathered camouflage exterior gives way to a cavelike interior, the concrete and stone mass providing a sense of protection from the power of the landscape and the extreme regional climate. This is an intriguing but satisfying reversal of the orthodox material schema of concrete exterior and timber interior.

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The central living area comprises a series of diagonally interlocking spaces which culminate in a cavernous aperture which is carved through to the upper floor, creating a sense of connectedness and spatial fluidity. Shafts of winter sunlight penetrate deep into the space through raised angular skylights and deep framed windows, evoking an almost spiritual atmosphere.

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The roof plane dips low, forming a sheltered Verandah space, framing views to the lake and mountains. The materiality of the building has a tactility and earthy sensuality expressed by the textured concrete walls, rough hewn schist floors, and band sawn oiled timber ceilings. A subtle scent of cedar permeates the space. The Te Kaitaka house is enriched by hand crafted detailing and has been assembled with the skill and precision of a furniture maker.

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The Te Kaitaka house is a sanctuary for our clients, their family and friends. Although generous in its proportions and theatrical in its expression it is also an intimate and sociable home with a sense of informality and an atmosphere of serenity. As a sculptural object within the landscape enfolding a rich interior experience, this house evokes a profound sense of place.

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