written by:
January 25, 2009
Originally published in The New American Home
The dark, primeval mountains and jagged ravines of New Zealand are free of rampaging Orcs, but Middle-earth, 2007, has another nuisance on the loose. It is the load-bearing truck, carrying a quaint, preloved homestead—or rather, two trucks with two halves of a quaint, preloved homestead—causing traffic chaos en route to the wine region of Wairarapa.
Longhouse in New Zealand
The house's angled placement on the site, as well as its narrow footprint, provide effortless cross ventilation and abundant natural sunlight.
1 / 5
The long corridor between the guest and main quarters provides ample light and lovely views in addition to acting as one of the Longhouse's most hard-working green elements. The concrete Trombe wall collects sunlight and distributes it as heat throughout the home.
2 / 5
Ted Preston takes charge of hot beverages in the kitchen. The architects diligently avoided cold, hard minimalism with a honey-tinged Italian poplar ceiling.
3 / 5
The courtyard facing Anne Cornege is sheltered from the Wairarapa winds year-round.
4 / 5
Sun shines through the glass and onto the concrete, heat-storing wall and floor in the hallway that separates the guestrooms from the main house. This “heat sink” keeps the Longhouse warm when the mercury dips.
5 / 5
Longhouse in New Zealand
The house's angled placement on the site, as well as its narrow footprint, provide effortless cross ventilation and abundant natural sunlight.
Project 
Longhouse
Architect 

The dark, primeval mountains and jagged ravines of New Zealand are free of rampaging Orcs, but Middle-earth, 2007, has another nuisance on the loose. It is the load-bearing truck, carrying a quaint, preloved homestead—or rather, two trucks with two halves of a quaint, preloved homestead—causing traffic chaos en route to the wine region of Wairarapa.

Dozens of these abodes have come to rest in Martinborough, a town of 800 souls, where the very concept of tradition is built into the street plan, arranged 127 years ago to mimic Britain’s Union Jack. So you might imagine that Ted Preston and Anne Cornege’s Longhouse—as in 131 feet long and 20 feet wide—has given locals something to talk about.

“We built a house—we’re weird,” says Preston, a freelance government management consultant, with the calm demeanor of a man in a downshifting cycle. After 26 years in Wellington, and with an empty nest, Preston and Cornege can get cozy in their contemporary retreat, a sophisticated construction of concrete, glass, and steel. Two guest bedrooms for weekend tourists bring in a little income, and the question of sustainability was a no-brainer. “I’m not an eco-warrior,” Preston says. “It just seems the sensible thing to do in this day and age. And look around you—it’s windy, it’s sunny.”
 
Outside, there’s enough natural energy swirling around to power this planet and a dozen others. Every tree in sight is bent at the waist, as though snap-frozen during aerobics class, the result of a steady pounding by the North Island’s famous nor’westerlies. And the sun is fierce, no thanks to the depleted ozone layer directly above. The task, then, for designers Cecile Bonnifait and William Giesen, of the Wellington practice Atelier-workshop, was to harness this abundant natural energy and let it seep throughout two distinct areas, the living and guest quarters.

The designers worked as they always do: from the ground up. Bonnifait recalls clearly how things began on their first visit to what was no more than a bumpy, empty paddock. “When we came here, it was a warm day, and there was this very long grass and so we just walked through and felt the undulations,” she says. They looked up and saw mountains. “And we wanted to express the ridge in the distance, even the formation of the landscape,” she adds.

The logic of the house was born: It would reflect the natural terrain (hence its angled placement on the site) as well as the far-off peaks (note the tall gabled roof stretching along an elongated corridor). Finally, an intricate grid would radiate from the building, governing the position of 200 white paper birch and totara trees, the living and guest modules, and the courtyards that divide them. “It’s important to us that every space has a different experience with the landscape,” Bonnifait says.

The ambient comfort level is controlled with passive design: copious skylight cutouts, double-glazed glass, orientation toward the sun, and, crucially, “getting sun onto thermal mass, like concrete,” Giesen says. “When that late-afternoon sun comes in, you’ve got a big concrete wall and floor that holds that heat so it can dissipate through the rest of the house.” Among the advantages of a narrow house, he explains, are good cross ventilation and the opportunity of sunlight reaching all the way across every room. “We haven’t had heating on for six months. You tend to forget about it,” Cornege confirms.

In summer, when the mercury hits 100 degrees Farenheit, the house must be cooled without “machinery,” as Preston says. “But there are louvers, lots of sliding glass doors, etc., so we can tune the place, even though the wind is quite significant.”

The project was ahead of the curve. Wind power was discussed early on, but the expense, the noise level, and the primitive “eggbeater technology” still widely in use put the idea on hold. The microhoteliers use solar energy only for the hot water system.

Like the rest of the world, New Zealand’s researchers are working furiously to produce cheap, efficient green power. And when it arrives, the residents of the Longhouse will be ready. Their home has been future-proofed. Preston explains, “Down in the second guest room, the internal framing has been strengthened so we can put in more solar cells or a bank of batteries so we could do the wind-power thing.”

Present conditions, however, are not so bad. All that thermal concrete has been softened internally with honey-colored Italian poplar ceiling panels, cut like jigsaw pieces on site, and externally with waxed boards of rich, macrocarpa pine. “You drive up and the lights reflect on the wood and it sort of glows,” Preston says. “And when I get inside, I get the feeling the house is smaller, much more intimate, because our world ends just where those little pools of light go. There’s nothing more out there.”

He can sit in the AV room, tucked behind the kitchen, and listen to music or watch television while a microcourtyard away, his wife is reading in their bedroom or soaking in a sunken concrete bath taking in the rural views. Any guests are safely, privately, quietly, and eco-consciously stashed away behind the sliding door down the very long hallway.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Modern Florida seaside home with corian island, dornbracht faucet, cees braakman combex chairs and marble knoll table in the kitchen
Read more about Knoll's impressive career here, but in the meantime, explore just a few of her works in these contemporary homes.
February 11, 2016
Modern small box home in Mexico
Letting the warm climate indoors is a common thread through these diverse dwellings.
February 11, 2016
Modern white cabinets under the stairs with skylight above
What could be better than a modest-sized house in a quaintly historic city?
February 11, 2016
dining room lighting
These renovations connect rustic, classic, and modern design in Italy.
February 10, 2016
12362509 211441865858796 1743381178 n1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 10, 2016
modern outdoor garden room plastic polycarbonate
From colorful living rooms to a backyard retreat, Belgian designers reimagine vernacular forms and materials for the modern world.
February 10, 2016
Tel Aviv kitchen with custom dining table and Smeg fridge
Would you go for an out-of-the-box palette for your major appliances? See how these kitchens tackle the trend.
February 10, 2016
Exhibition view, of Klaus Wittkugel works at P! gallery, New York
On view through February 21 at New York's P! gallery, a new show explores the politics of Cold War-era graphic design with a presentation of works by Klaus Wittkugel—East Germany's most prolific graphic designer. Curator Prem Krishnamurthy walks us through the highlights.
February 10, 2016
Reclaimed cedar and gray-stucco home outside San Francisco.
The new kid on the block in a predominantly Eichler neighborhood, this Menlo Park home breaks the mold and divides into three pavilions connected by breezeways.
February 10, 2016
A third floor addition and whole-house renovation modernized a funky cottage on an unusual, triple-wide lot in San Francisco.
From modern interiors hidden within historic structures to unabashedly modern dwellings, these seven renovations take totally different approaches to San Francisco's historic building stock.
February 10, 2016
Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen and gyrofocus fireplace in living room of Villa Le Trident in the French Riviera, renovated by 4a Architekten.
The Aegean's all-white architecture famously helped inspire Le Corbusier; these five dwellings continue in that proud modern tradition (though not all are as minimalist).
February 10, 2016
San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016
senses taste products
Ambience is a key ingredient to any meal—materials, textures, and mood all impart a certain flavor.
February 07, 2016
senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016