This Aotea Great Barrier Island Bach Is Off-Grid At Its Finest
Richard Naish, founder of RTA Studio, designed this getaway abode for an ocean-loving family is a charming nod to a traditional Pacific fale
Where is the house?
The house is on Medlands Beach on Great Barrier Island. The site is essentially a sand dune dropping away from the beach toward the wetlands behind. While it is a beautiful site nestled into the dune it is difficult to get a view of the beach and ocean from the ground floor, so a second storey is set up to take advantage of both the elevated water view to the front of the site and the wonderful inland view to the hills at the rear.
What was the owners’ brief for this build?
For a modestly scaled holiday bach — small enough to feel intimate and cosy for two but expandable to accommodate the wider family on occasion.
What was the inspiration behind the bach’s triangular form?
The owners are seafaring folk who have always owned boats and loved the ocean. Harbour markers are a welcome sign and a signal of home when returning from an ocean voyage. So it seemed like an appropriate gesture for the form of the house to sit up and float above the dune and signal home to its owners when returning from the beach.
The concept for the home is also derived from the tradition of a Pacific fale or simple whare on a coastal site. What is it about those forms that appeal to you?
The roof form is an abstracted or simplified take on the Pacific fale roof. The fale has always appealed to me as the simplest of pavilions — an economical roof simply elevated above the living plane, providing shelter, shade and volume to facilitate air flow and ventilation. It seemed like an appropriate choice of roof form to facilitate those same functions over this holiday living plane.
Can you describe the layout of the bach and how it functions?
The programme is essentially very simple — living on the ground plane and sleeping at each end of the upper level — in the roof — one bedroom looking seaward and two looking landward, with the roof volume left void over the living spaces.
The house’s footprint is 110 square metres. Was it a conscious decision to keep it relatively small?
The small footprint of the house was intentional, partly driven by the brief but also a desire to minimise the environmental footprint. Moreover, there is a certain character that a small bach has over a large one. It is slightly too small to be a permanent house and you are reminded of that every day as you have to duck your head to move through the sloping roof forms and do without generous wardrobes, for example. This builds in a certain “holidayness” into a bach that is generated by smallness.
What are the benefits of keeping a home’s footprint small?
A smaller house by nature will be easier to heat and light and service with hot and cold water, it will produce less waste and take fewer materials and less energy to build. All of these things make a marked reduction of its embodied and operational energy and therefore its carbon footprint.
Do you think all houses should be on the smaller side these days?
I do believe that we should always consider size and materiality with every building we build, whether it be a house, school or commercial building. However, with a house, it is interesting how the constraints of size, often being the main one, can place a certain rigour and discipline on the design of a house. This often leads to a more refined and focused outcome than bigger budgets and briefs can achieve. But overall, literally the smaller the physical footprint the smaller the environmental footprint follows.
What materials have been used?
The house is clad inside and out with timber; cedar exterior weatherboards and pine plywood interior linings and cabinetry. The house is mostly timber framed with some structural steel. So the embodied carbon in the building is relatively low. Together with material choice, low energy use light fittings and water fixtures have been used.
And the house is also entirely off-grid?
The house is off-grid as there is no mains electricity on Great Barrier Island. We have designed a standalone garden shed that has a roof of north-facing PV solar cells that provide the power for the house. These power a battery pack for storage and there is a small generator for the rare occasion the batteries run out from overly heavy use in winter. It also has on-site storm water and effluent disposal and rainwater collection.
How many of your architectural projects take sustainability into consideration?
All of our projects have some degree of sustainable consideration. Where we can we achieve carbon zero, we do, and where we can’t, we achieve what we call “carbon better”. Any carbon reduction is better than none. We discuss with and encourage clients to consider what they want to aspire to with their projects on a carbon basis. As an architectural practice we are a certified carbon zero company, but beyond that we have set targets to achieve carbon neutrality over all of our clients’ projects by 2040 (10 years ahead of New Zealand government targets).
Fale Marker house by RTA Studio is shortlisted in the 2022 Auckland Architecture Awards (housing category). The winners will be announced on August 17.
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