Architectural philosophy

Looking out to the Tasman Sea, the fort-like structure defends itself from raging southwesters creating a sanctuary within. It stands alone in a field: dark, self-contained and mysterious. Apart from the gravel road, the architect left the surrounding land untouched. Grass grows right up to the house, and cattle literally rub up against the weatherboards.

“It’s the curtilage area that surrounds a house which often gives human habitation away more than the building”, notes Patterson. “Rather than mitigating the effect of the house, it actually domesticates the landscape”. He has designed a sheltered courtyard within the walls of the building, avoiding the need for outward connection. Seemingly part buried, and with one-foot thick walls, this house is embedded into its site, and from a distance could be a rock outcrop.

When approaching the house, the front entrance is merely suggested by a shadowy recess. The wall panel pivots to reveal a gradually expanding corridor, leading past the inner courtyard down toward the ocean view. Dark cladding is continued inside making the interior feel very contained and secure despite its large windows. In a lot of contemporary Pacific Rim architecture the goal is often to blur the edges and make the outside come in, but this house feels more like a lookout – referencing Maori forts that used to dot the coast.

Each end of the house has an enclosed sleeping wing with rooms concealed by hidden doors. These are the most private of sanctuaries and, although adjacent to living and circulation spaces, feel very removed. In the centre, two living rooms wrap around the internal courtyard and pool, the iridescent blue water making a surreal oasis against the dark timber. The courtyard becomes the main circulation route over summer and its exterior wall panels pivot open to access the driveway and create another entry.

The architect has used simple geometric devices of converging and expanding walls to create varied spatial experiences. “The house is arranged as a series of linked spaces, with forms and shapes seemingly arbitrarily positioned with secret doors for discovery”, says Patterson. “This was a deliberate strategy to recall some of the devices used to medieval castle and give it a sense of history”.

Patterson’s buildings tell a rich and often intriguing story. He explores cultural and environmental histories and describes them abstractly in his architecture. The farmhouse at Muriwai Beach confronts its dramatic site, providing sheltered living spaces in a form that responds to, but also complements, the landscape.

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