Having recently received a National Award at the 2019 ADNZ Resene Architectural Design Awards in the Additions and Alterations Category, I thought it timely to share a few thoughts on my approach to altering houses. Often there is already a good amount of dollar value in the existing house, so one needs to be careful and pragmatic about where and how to spend any money on it.
I like to explore the ways in which the house is currently working, both aesthetically and functionally. To love what is there avoids a fight to change it into something it is not. A 1950’s bungalow, unless a lot of money is spent, will always look like a 1950’s bungalow.
Commonly, a house has been altered in the past and it is first an exercise in restoring logic. Why is there a porch halfway down the corridor when the entrance is now through the living area? Sometimes it is a very simple case of relocating a couple of doors and internal partitions to make a major difference. The aspiration, once work is complete, should be to have the house feel like it was always meant to be that way.
When looking at any new requirements, the house needs to deliver for its occupants, so my first study is where these needs can be accommodated within the building footprint. If possible, major cost can be avoided by redistributing spaces within the house. If there is a need to push out, do it carefully so that it complements the existing house.
Six out of the 10 award-winning projects at the 2019 ADNZ Resene Architectural Design Awards, one of New Zealand’s most prestigious architecture awards, are by Christchurch designers. 145 entries were received from some of the most talented designers across the country. The awards were held on Friday 18 October in Queenstown.
The Christchurch winners were Greg Young of Young Architects, Nic Curragh of Objects Ltd, Ben Brady of Linetype Architectural, Robert Weir of Weir Architecture and Chris Wheeler of Hierarchy Architecture.
Greg Young from Young Architects won two awards for two different projects; the 2019 Residential New Home over 300m2 Architectural Design Award for a Merivale project titled ‘Gable Silhouette’, and the Residential Multi-Unit Dwelling Architectural Design Award for ‘Hereford Apartments’.
A simple family home, ‘Gable Silhouette’ is all about the enjoyment of living. The aesthetic has been inspired by the early work of Sir Miles Warren and the architecture of Central Otago. The other award-winning project, created by Young, was the design of four one-bedroom apartments on a 405sqm site in the inner city, with judges describing the four tiny single-bedroom units as being of rare spatial quality.
Nic Curragh of Objects Ltd won the Residential New Home between 150m2 and 300m2 Architectural Design Award for his project ‘Red Rock Lane’. Nestled into a terraced hillside site in Redcliffs, this two-bedroom house has been positioned to enjoy the view east to the Southern Alps. All living spaces are accommodated on the first floor within two dark-stained cedar box forms. The more dominant north box, with its extensively glazed lounge, cantilevers out dramatically over a 13m lap pool and pool room.
Ben Brady of Linetype Architectural won the Residential Alterations and Additions Architectural Design Award for his Sumner project titled ‘Esplanade Alterations’. A light hand was required on this 100-year-old arts and crafts villa. Although already renovated and earthquake repaired, the home required an alteration with more foresight and a big picture perspective to make it suitable for modern life while retaining and enhancing its character features.
Judge’s said Brady had given the grand old house a new lease on life through an alteration that brings out its best.
“Restrained interior choices give it lightness and foregrounds the original features of the house. The entrance deftly makes a sculptural statement out of an inconveniently located tree. The house unfolds on arrival. A new spiral staircase in black steel at the rear of the house juxtaposes sympathetically with the white timber walls and leads to a detached studio.”
The Crowne Plaza by Robert Weir of Weir Architecture received the Commercial/Industrial Architectural Design Award. Weir Architecture was tasked with transforming an existing damaged office building into a new dynamic luxurious hotel. Featuring 204 spacious and modern hotel rooms, combined with the best views that Christchurch City has, the hotel sits proudly within the Performing Arts Precinct, bringing life and vitality back into the city.
Meanwhile, the 2019 Resene Colour in Design Award went to ‘Coffee Culture The Crossing’ by Chris Wheeler of Hierarchy Architecture. The judges said that the stunning, neutral palette evokes style, warmth and grace.
When it comes to houses, there are certain ergonomic features that make a space function, but it’s hard to argue for a need when spaces get larger than necessity dictates. However, strip a design back to necessity and we might be disappointed with what we are presented.
Therefore, it’s important to recognise we have cultural values overlying some basic needs that tell us when a space is adequate or not. I suspect that growing up in a colony, where land was once cheap and stretching one’s legs caused no harm, has bequeathed a luxurious expectation of space that is hard to extinguish. Of the prince and the pauper, the pauper seemed to have it good, but when life is going in the other direction, it causes much more angst.
This kind of lifestyle has gone unchallenged for several generations but is increasingly coming under scrutiny: climate change; urban sprawl; affordability. If I’m honest, I struggle with an internal conflict that recognises these factors but still wants a generosity of space.
Perhaps it is just a matter of me, and New Zealand culture, naturally growing up from that colonist mentality. Commute distances will cause us to value the density of cities and that value will supersede the one of space. The trouble is that the process doesn’t happen uniformly. Plus it happens slowly, and time is not on our side. The temptation may always be there to look to your neighbour with twice as much space. If you are building, challenge yourself. Big is not better, enough is enough.
Look at the cookie cutter houses in some of the new subdivisions and you may not have found architectural inspiration, but there is reason behind some of the repetition of form. A particular roof pitch and a 600mm eave mean that there will be no cladding above the windows. A certain floor plan will mean the ratio of wall area to house area is low. These tried and tested recipes, along with building code minimums, produce affordability. Mess with it and you might mess with the budget.
So, what do you do when you want more in terms of aesthetics and lifestyle? At the other end is the architectural approach, where high ideas and custom craftmanship with the best materials create buildings that are almost sculpture first, home second. But who can afford that? If one is trying to stick to a modest budget, it is important to get one’s priorities straight in order to spend money in the right areas.
You might keep the floor plan small with perhaps smaller bedrooms and a good size open plan living area. Timber, although expensive, brings warmth to a surrounding, but it could be limited to the areas you will experience, say the entry to the house and outdoor living, rather than a wholesale approach. Being careful with the simplicity of form, but utilising good proportion makes the design buildable. A sensitivity to this balance of cost versus architecture is what a good designer will be able to guide you through to achieve exciting, affordable outcomes.
A hilltop lifestyle dream and a desire for affordability produced Linetype Architectural Director & Designer Ben Brady’s own enchanting home on Moncks Spur.
A search for hill sites led him here, but Ben initially rejected the section because its 30-degree slope meant the numbers just didn’t add up. However, a serendipitous price reduction put the numbers where they needed to be, and just like that the project was on.
Ben says the house is conceived in simple form, but the rectangular box shapes set against the slope, plus the magnificent views over Barnett Park to the mouth of the estuary, mean the effect is dramatic. Unusually, the three bedrooms are below the living space, but Ben has ensured that every room in the house has a view; from the kitchen, dining, and living area across the deck that spans the length of the room, it is panoramic.
Budgets were key in material selections and resulted in lightweight construction utilising timber framing, including floors. Metalcraft Kahu profile steel was chosen because it works for both the low-pitched roof and the cladding. Interiors are neural toned to allow the views to prevail, and are again satisfyingly cost effective. The flooring is whitewashed Stranboard, and the kitchen is an undercover mass-produced modular purchase, customised with timber shelves and toe boards. It whispers bespoke, but came in at an astonishingly low $10,000. Necessarily complex foundations allow the top one metre of soil to slide, while all retaining walls are meticulously separated from the house to prevent ‘hammering’, meaning the house will stay intact in an earthquake.
Keane Building constructed the house, with Chris Keane helpfully allowing Ben to manage certain elements to assist with the budget. “Chris has done a great job and nothing was ever a problem”. Chosen by Ben for their enthusiasm and positivity Ben believes “a project should be fun and these guys made it so”. Chris Keane says, “It was a real privilege being chosen to assist Ben building his home. We’ve worked with him in the past and really enjoyed collaborating with him, this time was no different. We find that Ben is innovative and pushes the boundaries, which is always enjoyable. Ben’s passion and willingness to collaborate makes him a real pleasure to work with, and we are thrilled we had the opportunity to work on this project.”