Waikato River House

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Xsite Architects were engaged by clients who have had a 40 year association with the building industry – the last 11 of which have been spent running a successful Hamilton housing franchise. They wanted to explore building techniques, products and finishes more unique than their own customers are used to, such as acoustic ceiling panels, plaster box light fittings, and structural concrete and steel construction. They have also had a long-standing relationship with the Waikato River – Bob having represented New Zealand in rowing, through which sport the couple met. This house had to maintain that special relationship with the river.

The site was already partially excavated by the previous owner, and we dug deeper to set the main living areas 1400mm below the arrival point. This arrangement keeps the cars to the South-East and allows the living areas to open up to the North and West river aspects.

The house is composed of simple, solid block forms clad in either zinc, stone or cedar slats and these are broken up by voids of floor-to-ceiling double-glazing. The zinc cladding is “Autumn Red” and is fixed with a vertical standing seam – a detail that served well to hide the obligatory parapet flashing. The South and West walls of the main living space are clad in horizontal split basalt in random lengths and varying widths. The garage, pool equipment sheds and retaining walls are identified by black stained cedar battens.

Entry is into the glazed, double-height void that contains the stairs and circulation. An internal balcony feeds the bedrooms, bathroom and study on the upper floor. The lower level split divides the gym, bathroom and garage off from the living areas. The living areas enjoy the large spans and open areas that the concrete and steel structure allows, but are defined into more intimate spaces by carpet inserts, floating acoustic ceilings and skylights. The highly textural stone of the South wall wraps around into the living room while clusters of halogen lights recess into plaster boxes in the ceiling.

There were two major construction challenges in this project. In the North-East corner, four 600mm diameter concrete piles were sunk seven metres into the ground and cantilever up five and a half metres to support the neighbouring property. The study floats over the entry on a concrete floor spanning three and a half metres onto a massive steel beam that cantilevers four metres out over the garage door.

The house was designed within the constraints of the Claudelands West heritage controls, so the bulk of the building has been set down into the landscape, following the similar bulk of surrounding buildings. The basalt, zinc and cedar were selected for their traditional references, but are applied in an inventive and considered way. The result is a house whose tones and textures recede comfortably into its surrounds.

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