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At one with the scenery

At one with the scenery

Project / Modernist home

Traditional roof profiles and schist walls are two popular ways architects connect house designs to the spectacular Otago high country. But there is another approach to bringing the river, mountains and architecture together.


This dramatic residence, nestled at the base of the Wakatipu Basin and overlooking the wild Shotover River, is the work of architect Gary Todd, builder Glen Cayless and the owners, who led the vision.


The house stands on a river terrace; its sharp, Modernist lines resembling the shards of a rocky outcrop, in keeping with the mountain topography everywhere around it, says Todd.


"In addition, an infinity edge swimming pool visually melds with the river and, seen from above, has the look of a rock pool.


"The house breaks with the tradition of pitched, farmhouse-style roofs in this region, and led to regulatory changes that acknowledge modern homes can defer to the surroundings."


Todd says visiting the house is a journey of discovery. The approach is from the road above, the drive wending down through an orchard and around the side of the house to a parking area at the lower level.

"Different aspects of the scenery are revealed along the way, but it is not until you reach the forecourt, climb the stairs and stroll through the living spaces out to the deck that the majesty of the immediate setting is experienced.


"The house immerses itself in the scenery in many ways," says Todd. "In addition to the relaxing sounds from the river below, a pond on an upper level brings the gentle murmur of water from a different direction. And from the foyer entrance, there is a six metre-high vista that bisects the home and leads the eye up the hill behind."

Besides the sharp, linear overhangs of the three pavilions, it is the material choices that ensure the house is at one with its surroundings. Much of the exterior is clad in distinctive shuttered concrete, formed by pouring wet mix against rough-sawn timber. When removed, the marks of the wood are pressed into the surface, for a textural, natural finish.


This cladding is complemented by the use of square Kerlite tiles, imported from Italy and chosen for their resemblance to slabs of stone. The balance of the exterior is in floor-to-ceiling tinted glass and charcoal-coloured aluminium.


A similar palette continues indoors, but with rough swapped for smooth. Polished concrete floors, gleaming stainless steel elements and glass predominate through the interior.


With only the garage, plant room and entry on the lower level, the upstairs divides into three areas, corresponding to the outcrops in the roofline above. The open-plan living, dining and kitchen area is to the left of the entry foyer, running across the home, with the master suite and study beyond that. To the right is a guest lobby, two bedrooms and a gymnasium.


For such a strong, simple house, there are some surprises. The high ceilings are coloured charcoal, not white, and in the foyer, an LED representation of the Southern Cross mimics the night sky outside. Two secret doors minimise a need for corridors, says Todd.


"The effects of the extreme climate have been mitigated throughout. Deep overhangs and clerestory windows control the sun's rays and long eaves help shield the glare, which can be intense. Windows and doors are double glazed with Low-E glass and argon filled, while concrete floors absorb heat by day and release it to the interiors at night."

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Country: New Zealand| Australia