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Enduring the elements

As a mountainous island country, the diverse natural landscapes of New Zealand can often inspire some of the world’s most spectacular architecture. The geography, topography and position of a site – as well as the weather – influence the shape and design of a structure. Whether it’s a new home in Hamilton, a remote bach on the West Coast, a beach house in the Coromandel or an alpine abode in Queenstown, all scenarios have different environmental and architectural elements to consider.

David Maurice, design director at LTD Architectural Design Studio in Auckland and Nelson, says the key is to ensure that the existing ecosystem of the site remains as intact as possible. “Often the first move is to minimise the building’s size and footprint,” he says. “However, the problem is then fitting everything in, which is where good design becomes so important. It means getting every element of the design working as hard as possible so that nothing is poorly or seldom used. Redundant space equates to a waste of resources.”

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Abiding by the mantra of ‘simplicity without sterility’, David uses natural materials wherever possible to add texture and beauty to simple spaces and forms in any landscape. “I’m especially interested in the conversation that happens between a sculptural, built structure and its natural setting,” he says. “While working with budgets both small and large, it’s important that the cost of any design element adds genuine value and is not just expensive for its own sake. Ultimately, it’s about designing right for the people, the place and the planet.”

Remote wilderness

“For me, designing a house in this type of location is an extension of the landscape, both functionally and sculpturally. In other words: the house isn't the star of the show. That doesn’t mean it can’t stand out but there should be some humility about it. Most people who live here want to be connected to their environment and the design needs to help them do this, so this type of house is outward facing. On the practical side, there are additional things to consider such as on-site water storage, power generation and wastewater treatment, plus storing the extra gear that’s usually required for living or holidaying in this environment.”

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Sea change

“When designing a home on the coast, there’s always the threat of over-exposure – both to the elements and the view. There’s a temptation to throw up large expanses of glazing without taking a more considered approach and giving some nuance to the spaces and outlooks being created. It’s also important that outdoor areas provide comfort in varying conditions and not just serve as a grandstand for the view. Crucially, materials need to be durable and low maintenance for this type of environment.”

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Suburban sanctuary

“As opposed to a home in the wilderness, a suburban residence tends to be more inward facing. The main consideration is the quality of the interior space – the way it feels. This can be sabotaged by too much focus on the layout and function of the plan which is the reason why some suburban houses become bland. The proportions of the spaces, the quality of natural light, the texture of the finishes and even acoustic qualities should be considered. These are all items that don’t necessarily add more cost to a project.”

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Mountain high

“The elements are a crucial consideration when designing a home in alpine landscapes. Subject to both freezing and stifling hot temperatures, extra attention needs to be directed at the use of building materials to keep the home warm in winter and cool in summer. A connection to the surroundings is often important for homeowners here, whether that’s through the use of appropriate natural materials
or maximising the views. The home needs to be positioned correctly to harmoniously blend with the environment.”

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