written by:
photos by:
February 28, 2009
Originally published in Learning From Down Under

On New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island, two architects designed a petite holiday home that takes care of its own water, electricity, and sewage needs.

The cedar-clad home designed by Herbst Architects faces the Pacific Ocean, tucked behind sand dunes from the sparsely populated Medlands Beach.
Photo by 
1 / 3
The Herbsts designed the home with a covered terrace to encourage outdoor living in the island’s temperate climate.
Photo by 
2 / 3
Sustainable second home in New Zealand
The outdoor room is backed by a gabion wall made of stone. Rainwater runs off the roofs into a channel before being funneled through pipes concealed within it to an underground concrete tank.
Photo by 
3 / 3
herbst house exterior
The cedar-clad home designed by Herbst Architects faces the Pacific Ocean, tucked behind sand dunes from the sparsely populated Medlands Beach.
Lindale Residence

There are some places where getting
 off the grid is an admirable aim and others where it is an absolute necessity. Great Barrier Island, a four-and-a-half-hour boat trip (or half-hour flight in 
a tiny plane) northeast of Auckland, New Zealand, falls firmly into the latter category: With a permanent population
of approximately 1,000 people, the 
island has no municipal water or electricity supplies and no sewage treatment facilities, meaning every home there has to be self-sufficient.  

Some people would be daunted by the challenge, but South African–born architects Lance and Nicola Herbst relished an opportunity to design something completely off the grid. The couple first visited New Zealand in the mid-1990s and were enchanted not only by Great Barrier Island’s isolation and spectacular white-sand beaches, but by what Lance describes as “little timber shacks we had never experienced before—–tiny buildings with 20 years’ accretion of stuff.” In New Zealand, these shacks are called “bachs” (pronounced “batches”) because they were historically designed for bachelors. Nowadays, the word 
is used to describe any sort of vaca
tion home, no matter how lavish. 
The Herbsts, however, strive to inform their design with the implicit modesty of the term.

Three years after their first visit, 
the Herbsts moved permanently to New Zealand. They purchased land on
Medlands Beach, on the island’s east coast, and built a small bach there. The intimate knowledge they developed of the area put them in good stead when, in 2005, their friend Marc Lindale asked them to design his vacation home on a 9,250-square-foot site a little farther down the same beach.

Lance says the lack of services on the island meant the home’s design became “a diagram of the basic provision of shelter,” not unlike early bachs. This straightforward approach was aided by their decision to dispense with the patterns of city life in favor 
of predominantly outdoor living in the island’s subtropical climate. There is no front door to the home, just a few steps up to the space that serves as its heart: a covered terrace with a large dining table, backed by a gabion wall made from local stone. Behind it is a slim two-story structure containing the home’s two bedrooms and only bathroom; reaching toward the beach is 
a longer structure housing the compact kitchen, dining, and living areas. At the rear is another deck with a bench designed for filleting the day’s catch of fish for dinner. The building’s pine frame sits on a base of concrete blocks and is clad in cedar.

With no water supply, the roof was designed to collect the island’s plentiful rainfall and store it in an underground tank for drinking and washing. Another tank stores treated waste 
water for irrigation of the site.

Inside, all electricity needs were assessed and edited by an electrical engineer to minimize demand on the four 150-watt solar panels installed on the roof. The Herbsts took a threefold approach to keeping the amount of power the home uses to a minimum: “Firstly, by providing targeted task lighting,” explains Lance, “Secondly, by creating a low-lit ambience, which diverts attention to the night sky; and thirdly, by necessitating the use of 
candles and Coleman lanterns, which are rituals associated with camping and traditional bachs, many of which relied totally on candles for light.”

The Herbsts also disconnected the oven’s electric grill and Lindale banished the toaster after discovering 
that both would require energy surges the solar panels could not deliver. 
“It takes a mind-set shift for people who come from the city,” Lance says. “You need to be cognizant that every
time you turn something on, the power has to come from somewhere.” Compromises had to be reached over the television and the dishwasher, two things Lindale insisted on but the Herbsts opposed. Luckily, the architects located low-energy versions of both appliances.

All in all, the home’s simplicity makes it a convincing modern rendition of the improvisational shacks the Herbsts admired when they first visited the island. The surprising thing is how this pared-down approach has made living in the home feel much more like a pleasure than a chore. “City houses have become machines for living, 
and there’s

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Modern outdoor deck with wooden ceiling and metal fence
Working with a limited footprint, a daunting slope, and killer views, architect Bruce Bolander went vertical with a secluded canyon house in Malibu.
May 31, 2016
Modern prefab summer home in Madeline Island, Wisconsin
Prefab construction simplified the building process of this northern Wisconsin summer home, where all materials required ferrying across Lake Superior.
May 30, 2016
This unrealized plan reimagined the city’s downtown and included a large green area next to the capitol building and paths to bring people to the Delaware River
In her new book, Wild by Design, Margie Ruddick shows us how to get closer to nature.
May 30, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent joa herrenknecht berlin cstudio joa herrenknecht berlin loftsw livingr02 studiojoaherrenknecht 2015
Size doesn't intimidate this ambitious designer.
May 30, 2016
modern fjallbacka sweden pine boxes vacation facade
Architect Gert Wingårdh creates a passionately outfitted vacation home for two midcentury furniture dealers on the western coast of Sweden.
May 29, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent driaan claassen cape town south africa ccourtesy of driaan claasen dualpage82
Driaan Claassen combines a variety of materials and a love of history to create distinct objects.
May 29, 2016
energy star dirk wynants extremis poperinge beligium sustainable farmhouse facade
The owner of an outdoor furniture company updates a 19th-century farmhouse.
May 29, 2016
Modern small sustainable weekend home with flat roof
Two linked 1,000-square-foot pavilions are greater than a sum of their parts.
May 28, 2016
inside out los angeles home barbara bestor hollywood outdoor facade charcoal paint pool
Architect Barbara Bestor transforms a Hollywood Hills home by opening up its interior to the site’s dramatic backyard topography.
May 28, 2016
right of laneway vancouver garden sliding glass western window systems door outdoor
A Vancouver garden blossoms alongside fresh development.
May 28, 2016
20160229 dgd highhouse 1777 1024x683
A toddler, a pup, and their parents fit onto a 16.5-foot-wide plot in an inner suburb of Melbourne.
May 27, 2016
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 27, 2016
capitol gains seattle multifamily living dining room wassily chair chaise le corbusier cb2
Two Seattle architects design and build a dynamic multifamily structure on a formerly vacant lot.
May 27, 2016
modern beach house thatch roof living dining bar cart
By eliminating walls and incorporating a series of interior gardens, architect José Roberto Paredes creates an eclectic and inspired El Salvador beach house.
May 27, 2016
A two-story Eichler in San Francisco gets a freshening up.
May 27, 2016
Bathyard renovation in Madrid, Spain
In Madrid, Spain, Husos Architects renovate a turn-of-the-20th-century apartment for a client with dual passions: her houseplants and a nice, long bath.
May 26, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
May 26, 2016
starting over sturgeon bay facade tongue and groove new growth cypress  0
After a devastating fire, architect David Salmela designs a house to replace a beloved lakeside retreat in Wisconsin.
May 26, 2016
Modern home with brick base and cedar rain screen on top level
An architect reimagines an outdated brick garage by designing a graceful new family home atop its foundation.
May 26, 2016
sardenya lr 7
A renovation brings light and order to a Spanish flat, maintaining its standout ceilings.
May 25, 2016
pow 5 25 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 25, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent thom fougere winnipeg canada cthom fougere studio thom fougere saddle chair 2
Designer Thom Fougere plays with scale and typology to create playful furniture.
May 25, 2016
prs my16 0067 v001 1
In the worlds of architecture and design, we’re always looking for the best ways of supporting sustainable building practices. This awareness doesn’t have to stop at our driveways but rather, it can extend to the cars we choose to take us to the places we go each day. With Toyota’s 2016 Prius, the daily task of getting from point A to point B can now be experienced with a new level of efficiency, safety, and style.
May 25, 2016
mountfordarchitects western australia
On a narrow site in Western Australia, Mountford Architects makes the most of a tight spot—with an eye to the future.
May 25, 2016
San Francisco living room with Wassily chairs
Materials and furniture transformed the layout of this San Francisco house, without the need for dramatic structural intervention.
May 24, 2016
shiver me timbers tallow wood kitchen
A pair of married architects put their exacting taste to work on their own family escape in the Australian bush.
May 24, 2016
in the balance small space massachusetts cantilevered cabin glass facade
When nature laid down a boulder of a design challenge in the Massachusetts mountains, an architect’s solution elevated the project to new heights.
May 24, 2016
Wooden Walkways
A home in Ontario, Canada, demonstrates how factory-built housing can be as site sensitive as traditional construction.
May 24, 2016
15 icff 5
From Corian furniture to immersive installations, here are some of our favorite designs we saw at the 2016 shows.
May 24, 2016
A home and community celebrate natural remove in unison.
May 24, 2016