An Architect’s Family Home in Auckland Is Inspired by the Māori Worldview

An Architect’s Family Home in Auckland Is Inspired by the Māori Worldview

By Mandi Keighran
This home by TOA Architects celebrates contrast and draws inspiration from the name of the road—Tuarangi—which means “outer space.”

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."

The house fronts the street with the large top story and a sharply angled roof that defines the staircase, creating a striking form—especially at night, when it is lit up from within.

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 Douglas fir cladding is from Abodo, and the home is the first project in New Zealand to use iron vitriol to treat timber cladding. The innovative finishing option enhances the natural qualities of the band-sawn timber, creating a striking contrast with the metal cladding. 

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.

There is a play between really earthy, natural materials—which are seen in some of the cladding, tiles, and concrete work—and a very sleek, black metal aesthetic. "I have a lot of experience in commercial architecture, so I’m not scared of using more commercial, industrial materials on a residential building," says Craig.

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.

The round "Scott Window" is a reference to New Zealand architect John Scott. "His work is influential to TOA as a studio," says Craig. "The window links the main space of the house to the outdoor space."

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."

The warmth of the cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels is contrasted with darker, more stonelike materials throughout—including a polished concrete floor in the dining area and dark stone tiles in the bathrooms.

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 kitchen island features a top made from concrete and rimu, a native New Zealand timber. As rimu is no longer harvested, the piece was pulled from a swamp and is potentially around 1,000 years old. The split between the concrete and timber reflects the split between the flooring materials. "The faceted form of the island ties into our concept and links to the fractured forms on the exterior of the house," says Craig.

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."

A scullery sits behind the kitchen.

There are two bedrooms on the ground floor—one for the couple’s young son and another guest bedroom.  The large window in this bedroom frames green views, creating an oasis within the urban context.

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 wall beside the stair is made from off-form concrete, which is insulated on the outside. Polystyrene molds created a textured pattern on the concrete wall that celebrates the honesty of the home’s materials and construction. "It looks very gridded and regimented, but every part of the grid is unique," says Craig.

"There’s a point, about a third of the way up the staircase, where because of the unique shape of the staircase and the placement of the windows, it just directs you to look up," says Craig. "I realized after living in the house for about six months that I really took notice of the sky and the seasons. That’s been an unintended special moment that wasn’t designed, but is a culmination of a lot of the design work that we put in."

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 master bedroom is on the second story. It’s a private space for Craig and his wife that also incorporates a study, an en suite bath, and a walk-in wardrobe. Timber cladding gives the home’s interior a cozy feel.

The sharply angled roof balances the fragmented form of the home at the front. "We called the roof the ‘shark’s fin roof’ when we were designing it," says Craig. "It offers a formal counterpoint to the mass of the upstairs, but uses a sharp angle to create a dynamic form as the building goes down the site."

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."

The home is made of 42 unique cross-laminated timber panels. The smallest panel is 450 millimeters x 1500 millimeters, and the largest panel is the entire southern wall—14.4 meters x 2.3 meters. The cantilevered ground floor at the rear of the home was made possible by the strength of these panels.

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 sunny deck features Palissade outdoor dining chairs by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for HAY.

"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."

The ground floor projects out from the slope and sits over the top of the concrete foundations, in which a wine cellar—accessed through a hatch in the hallway floor—is located. 

"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."

Cellar floor plan of Tuarangi House by TOA Architects

Lower-level floor plan of Tuarangi House by TOA Architects

Upper-level floor plan of Tuarangi House by TOA Architects

North elevation of Tuarangi House by TOA Architects

South elevation of Tuarangi House by TOA Architects

East and west elevations of Tuarangi House by TOA Architects

Cross section of Tuarangi House by TOA Architects

Related Reading:

A Curved Holiday Home Nestles Into a Spectacular Clifftop in New Zealand

This Moody New Zealand Home Overlooks the Black Sands of Piha Beach

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: TOA Architects

Builder: Mike Greer Architectural

Structural Engineer: Engco & DHC

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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