New Zealand architect Craig Wilson had been living in a small, single-bedroom home in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn for six years when he decided it was time to build a new home for his young family. "It’s a great site, close to the city, but we were living in a tiny 47-square-meter house built in 1953, and it was falling down around us," he says. "We wanted to make an architectural statement."
Craig was working for a large commercial firm at the time, so he approached his university friend Nicholas Dalton, the founder of TOA Architects, to design the home. Midway through the project, however, Craig began working at TOA—and by the project’s completion he was associate director at the studio.
The narrow site slopes steeply away from Tuarangi Road and finishes at the bottom of a small valley. At the back of the site is a large pōhutukawa tree, which is over a hundred years old and takes up about 25% of the site.
It was essential that the home respond directly to the challenges that the site presented while framing specific views to create privacy within the urban location. "In some places, we’re only a few feet away from neighbors, but when you’re inside the house you don’t really notice that tight urban feeling," says Craig.
Nicholas Dalton is of Māori descent, and as a practice, TOA is guided by the Māori worldview. The concepts of Tangata (people), Whenua (the land and its history), Aroha (heart), and Wairua (spirit) play a key role in the design of each project.
"It is our philosophy as a practice to connect with the land, its people, and the history of both," says Craig. "A place tells the history of the land, especially in how it is named. We believe that those stories can be drawn on to create a concept or narrative for the building."
Tuarangi, the name of the road the house is located on, loosely translates to "outer space" or "beyond the sky where the stars are." "We wanted to capture a sense of timelessness in the building, with notions of the future and the past," says Craig. "There is a play between really earthy, natural materials and a very sleek, sharp aesthetic." Contrast can also be found in the juxtaposition between light and dark, smooth and rough surfaces, and soft and hard, faceted forms.
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The front door to the home is concealed from the street, and it’s accessed via a small stair that leads to a sheltered entryway. It opens into a dramatic, double-height space with a staircase that leads to the upper floor. "It’s quite unexpected," says Craig. "We used that idea of compression and release in several places to offer a sense of experience."
The ground floor has an L-shaped plan, with the kitchen at the center between the dining/living space and the two bedrooms—one for the couple’s young son and another for guests. "The kitchen is a really big part of the home," says Craig. "It’s central to the way we live day-to-day as a family, but it’s also where we interact with friends."
The second story has a master bedroom with an en suite bath, a walk-in wardrobe, and a study. The windows in the master bedroom look to the west and offer sunset views over the Waitakere Ranges.
The home is constructed from 42 cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, and the cantilevered form takes advantage of the strength of the material. Thanks to the modular nature of the build, the main body of the home was constructed in just ten days. "We couldn’t have designed the house the way it is using any other material," says Craig. "One of the other great things about the modular build was that the speed of construction saved a considerable amount of money, which allowed us to spend the budget on the things we notice everyday, like the fit-out of the kitchen."
Given the moderate climate of New Zealand, it was important that there be a strong, considered relationship between the interior and exterior spaces. A glazed sliding door in front of the kitchen island opens up to a deck, which offers an outdoor living space. Stairs lead down the side of the wine cellar and into the backyard.
"The backyard isn’t a flat, manicured space—it’s really natural and tranquil, especially under the pōhutukawa tree," says Craig. "It gives us an oasis, and it’s the kind of calm spot that you don’t normally find so close to the city. The entire form of the house really reinforces a connection with nature."
"One of the motivations with this house was to try new things with architecture," says Craig. "We wanted to push the boundaries not only in creating a beautiful object, but also in the technology and materials that we can use."
Architect of Record: TOA Architects
Builder: Mike Greer Architectural
Landscape design: TOA Architects
Interior Design: TOA Architects
Cabinetry Design: TOA Architects
Cabinetry Installation: SWP Interiors
CLT Panels: XLam
Photography: David Straight
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