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Te Kaitaka by Stevens Lawson Architects, Wanaka, New Zealand

[COMMENDATION AR HOUSE 2011] Set within the dramatic valley of Lake Wanaka, the folded concrete form of Te Kaitaka follows the natural lie of the land. Photography by Mark Smith

Set among the tussock-covered hills of Roys Peninsula on the shore of Lake Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand, Te Kaitaka has a truly enviable setting. As a centre for leisure activities including hiking, fishing and boating in summer and skiing in winter, the area is renowned for its dramatic landscape with large valleys dissecting high mountain ranges. The opportunity to build here was a rare one, as evidenced by the highly focused attention to detail, which the architects took incredibly seriously.

With local planning rules specifying a building platform no greater than a 25m square, the architects took this as a starting point, literally working with a square piece of paper to make the first moves. The paper was tilted to create a roof plane that mirrored the slope of the land, and then trimmed to fit the undulating landform and to create courtyards to the east and west of the building. Sliced on the angle, the piece of paper was then folded up to form skylights and down to form walls enclosing the space.

Envisaging this concrete roof as analogous to the rocky landforms of the region, the architects sought an equivalent to the tussock grasses that cloak the rock. In Maori culture, Te Kaitaka means cloak, and so the building is a potent symbol of shelter and nurture. A cloak of cedar was selected, giving the house a more rapidly weathered external camouflage, articulated by concrete apertures that protrude beyond the cladding line to frame specific views. Internally, these frames extend out from the bare concrete walls that give the space a cave-like character, in a move that the architects describe as ‘an intriguing but satisfying reversal of the orthodox material schema of concrete exterior and timber interior’.

Arranged over two split-levels, the plan centres on a timber-floored kitchen and dining room. Around this central area are two living rooms with rough-hewn schist floors, each with their own aspect. Bearing on higher ground to the north are four bedrooms accessed from a passageway, which are visible from the kitchen through a deep-cut timber-lined aperture. Described as a sanctuary for the clients, there is a sense that the generous proportions and the theatrical expression of the spaces are at odds with the outward-bound notion of living at one with nature.

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