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Where nature meets modernism: Tim Nees

A Christchurch architect has contributed to Banks Peninsula’s landscape with his penchant for eye-catching modernism.



Tim Nees hails from Wellington where he designed his national award-winning family home in the weather-lashed environs of Breaker’s Bay. Since 2014 the respected architect has operated New Work Studio from his Christchurch abode – a juxtaposition of white-painted forms, above the Taylors Mistake landscape.

“My father loved modernism, and he had like-minded architect friends. When it is what you grew up with, you can’t help but be strongly influenced.”

Tim’s other Banks Peninsula masterpiece recently won a 2020 Canterbury Architecture Award for off-the-grid retreat Houhere with its striking saw-tooth roofline and use of natural timbers.|

Now his next client’s dream home is proudly but privately tucked into a rare parcel of Governors Bay land overlooking the harbour.

The four hectares are unable to be subdivided, so the amazing site called for a timeless but modern design full of thought and detail, that made the most of the sweeping views.

“My clients had a modest budget, so the new house is a modest 220sqm, with a single cladding type applied everywhere,” Tim says.

“The land was purchased after the original house was destroyed in the earthquakes. Ngāi Tahu was consulted during the careful excavation, as ancient Māori walking tracks had been recorded on the land.

“The two levels are built on a flat knoll, capturing the afternoon sun, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the absolutely stunning Lyttleton Harbour views, and the dramatic hilltop silhouettes beyond.”

Garaging wasn’t deemed essential, as the long driveway through native flora provided the perfect hideaway.

One timber has been used extensively, sustainably milled Southern Beech, an untreated hardwood from the West Coast, used in various grades, with a natural oil-based stain for the cladding, upstairs flooring, staircase, ceilings and deck – all sourced from Health Based Building, who also provided the insulation.

“They wanted a really comfortable warm and highly insulated home, with an integrated heat-pump system.”

Tim says it resembles a big wooden boat from the side, with outdoor handrails in rusted Corten steel with an abstract leaf cut-out pattern.

The ground level, with three modest-sized bedrooms, has polished-concrete slab underfoot with timber ceilings to soften.

The main bathroom incorporates a timber surrounded alcove for deep-bath soaks against a watery vista.

A statement open staircase of timber and steel draws the eye up to the spacious open-plan kitchen and living area.

The couple’s bespoke design wish list includes a large laundry and a yoga studio with a framed picture window – creating the ultimate meditative and inspirational retreat.



Captivating retreat: Tim Nees

A hidden Banks Peninsula retreat captured the judges’ eyes at the New Zealand Institute of Architects Canterbury Awards 2020.




Architect Tim Nees has fronted New Work Studio for more than two decades and his latest project sits among 35 shortlisted for the Canterbury Awards.

The stunning design is one of 13 represented in the Housing category.

While Tim’s clients were ensconced in their 135m dream home, judges had to forgo the usual onsite visits to projects, due to Covid-19 restraints.

Instead Tim was interviewed by phone to paint parts of the picture that photos could not express.

“Nothing beats being there – seeing, smelling, touching,” Tim says.

“These aspects are the essence of a home. However, judges used photos and plans to get a sense of the experience of the home.”

Tim recognised this achievement was a collaborative effort with his clients, and Huntley Quinn Construction.

“Huntley was a good, solid communicator and great solution finder.”

The house is named Houhere, aka Lacewood, after a native tree common to the area.

Construction used little steel and concrete, and instead the sustainable build incorporated nature – macrocarpa, Douglas fir, purpleheart and larch.

Solar power, two water tanks, a generator, and gas heating was integral to the design – off-grid living is at this home’s heart and reason.


Secluded Beauty

An iconic build, which also blends naturally into the secluded Banks Peninsula site, was the creative challenge presented to award-winning Architect Tim Nees.



“The brief was for an informal weekend retreat, to eventually become their retirement home,” he says.

“It was designed not only for the look, but to take advantage of water views and hillside vistas on each side, while letting in light and breezes.”

Self-sustaining and completely off the grid, with two water-collection tanks, the surrounding four hectares was once part of an old farm.

“It has been left by the clients to ‘re-wild’ itself,” says Tim, who recently designed his own unique seaside escape.

“The clients were really happy, saying it was like a work of art – and beyond beautiful! It almost feels like an architectural tramping hut to me.”

The saw-tooth roof, painted heritage red, has its highest points facing the east to catch the morning sun.

Two bedrooms on either end and a cosy nook up a few steps surround the open-plan high-stud living areas.


A purposeful mix of non-treated timber features throughout the 172 square metre interior including exposed beams of macrocarpa and Douglas fir, a well-oiled plywood floor and walls lined with birch plywood.

A solid-timber kitchen bench top was sourced by the clients. The deck of purple heart, like the larch cladding, was left to silver over time.

Huntley Quinn was our builder,” Tim says.

“He was exceptional at thinking through the challenging strategy of working in a remote location, and very organised and honest. The communication was great, which was very important.”

The award-winning construction firm hired a bach about 15 minutes away, where his crew of six stay during the week.

As a second-generation builder and Project Manager for 29 years, Huntley also spent a day or two each week on the tools.

Completed last year, Huntley says it was quite a technical build with a lot of joinery, complex roof and an elevated subfloor.

“Logistically it was a challenge, but enjoyable and rewarding – especially with building through all four seasons, from scorching heat to snow.

We achieved the right balance of design to budget through a very close collaboration between architect, builder and client.”



Tim Nees: New Work Studio / Tim Nees Architects Director

The Influencers Column: Tim Nees

Tim Nees: New Work Studio / Tim Nees  Architects Director
Tim Nees: New Work Studio / Tim Nees Architects Director

For the past two years I have been Branch Chair of the NZ Institute of Architects here in Canterbury, leading the committee through a number of programmes and events that have increased public awareness of the practice of architecture. Last week I stepped aside for a new Chair – Mike Callaghan – to lead further changes and improvements over the next two years.
It is vitally important that the work of architects is understood in all its complexity and richness, and not judged solely on the resulting buildings. And it is important that buildings are understood not just as objects we walk or drive past, but things we inhabit and experience in all sorts of ways. Buildings are ‘mini-worlds’ and we are the ‘life-form’ they support and interact with. So to encourage the public to engage with buildings they might not normally engage with is of vital importance for the profession.
Ways of doing this will be what drives The Festival of Architecture in September this year. Not only will there be open studios and city walks, but backstage passes opening the doors to the backrooms and service spaces of some of the buildings in the city. There will also be lectures and presentations showcasing future work coming up in the city, and also talks and discussions around the buildings we have and the buildings we’ve lost. And these discussions will be extended into the virtual arena, through on-line engagement with community groups and other professional bodies.