Two simple barn shaped building forms are inconspicuously nestled into the hillside of this dramatic site overlooking a snow tipped mountain range outside of Queensland, New Zealand. In the surrounding countryside of large farm houses and animal farms, this unassuming holiday house by Bedmar and Shi may at first glance seem worlds apart from the tropical villas for which the designer has become so well known.
Strong linkages, however, in terms of design approach and sensibilities tie this building to the rest of the designer’s residential oeuvre. As is seen in Bedmar’s other works, the site and the nature of the site itself is often given equal importance to the architecture. His architecture becomes a medium through which the site is enjoyed and experienced. This particular site on a hillside in Queensland was approached by Bedmar in a very similar way. He allows the majesty and vastness of the site to become the main focus of the design while the building itself is extremely simple, almost like a tent for camping, explains Bedmar. The simple sophistication of the pared-down building forms and their organization, however, are far from being arbitrary.
The house is composed of two elongated barn shaped building forms that are aligned parallel to each other and stretched out along a hillside so that the long faces enjoy the awesome views of the mountains in front. These two forms are separated with a narrow buffer space and are sheared away from each other, one to the left and one to the right. This staggering of the two forms not only allows both buildings to enjoy the view of the mountain but also creates two implied external spaces adjacent to the buildings, one in behind the first building and another in front of the second building.
The site is approached from lower ground through a long curving driveway that leads the visitor from the front of the property, up and around the building to the back of the house. The first open external area created from the staggering of the two buildings, forms the entrance courtyard to the house. The second external space, which is in front of the second building, is a private garden that is not discovered until the visitor is within the house itself.
The singular action taken by the designers of shearing the two forms away from each other also opens up the possibilities in the house for the visitor to experience a dramatic sequence of light, spaces and vistas as they move through the internal spaces, which is prevalent in all of Bedmar’s work. During the long winding ascent to the property, this controlled sequence of experiences begins with the visitor first seeing glimpses of the house. As the driveway turns to the rear of the house, however, the building is blocked from view by the terracing terrain, which builds up the anticipation of what is to come. Once in the entrance courtyard, two long reinforced concrete walls reach out from the building to welcome the visitor as well as to anchor the buildings down into the landscape.
These walls frame the entrance courtyard, while they also conceal the view of the mountains. The designers’ understanding of the climate on the site led them to situate this entrance in an area where the reinforced concrete walls and building forms themselves will shield it from the prevailing winds. This protection from the sometimes harsh environment allows the courtyard to be a peaceful and quiet space where even a delicate rose garden, situated to the side of the entry, can flourish.
The anticipation of the spectacular view along the journey up through the site and into the long stretching walls of the entrance courtyard is again temporarily delayed as the visitor is first brought into a smaller entrance foyer. From here, the visitor then turns to the main Living and Dining areas which open up to allow the culmination of the entry sequence with their panoramic views of the spectacular mountain range beyond.
The New Zealand holiday house was designed primarily for winter ski holidays, but it is also meant to be enjoyed throughout the year and several provisions were made by the designers to allow for this flexibility. To the right of the Living Room, for instance, is an open terrace that was intended for wintertime use since it is an area of the site that receives sunlight in the winter and is partly protected by the building overhang above.
To the other side of the Living and Dining Room is a separate garden meant for use during the summer. Another reinforced concrete fin wall similar to those in the entrance courtyard is used here to shield this courtyard from the cool winds that blow during summer. Furthermore, an external fireplace is built into this wall to make the space more comfortable on cool summer evenings, as well as to provide a visual focal point for the Dining Room alongside.
Two openings for gas fireplaces and their surrounds are built outward from the shear wall and this projection is clad in an olive green granite finish. Directly facing these fireplaces is a singular raised built-in seating bench in solid timber strips so that the inhabitants can be seated and huddle close to the fire to warm themselves on cool evenings.
As opposed to many of Bedmar and Shi’s tropical houses where spatial transitions are subtle and spaces flow relatively freely from room to room as well as from inside to outside, in the New Zealand house the more temperate climate required a different response. Other than the relatively open planning of the Living and Dining rooms, the rest of the house is made up of more private compartmentalized rooms that can be individually heated. These enclosed spaces are mostly situated in the rear two storey block of the house.
Also unlike in many of Bedmar’s designs where the staircases are visually part of the main living spaces, in this holiday house the stairwell is a cosy enclosed space, nestled within the private zone of the house. Within the more open areas of the long Living and Dining Rooms, however, there are provisions by the designers to cater to the variations of temperature throughout the year. In the long expanse of glass in these rooms facing the mountain scenery, the windows are layered on the outside with bi-fold timber louver screen doors.
The doors allow for the flexibility of closing off the windows in the winter and opening them in the summer. As the house is intended as a ski holiday retreat, the vehicular entrance is in an enclosed part of the house alongside a storage area for ski equipment. This entrance, which is protected from the elements, is linked directly to the “wet” area of the kitchen as well as to a more interiorized counterpoint to the open Living Room which the designers have conceived as a winter living room with its own fireplace and a protected view into the courtyard in front.
The two simple barn shaped forms are clad on the outside with solid cedar wood tongue and groove cladding strips. The designers adopted this timber clad barn aesthetic from the surrounding building environment, however have executed it in the holiday house with simple, clean precision that is a characteristic of Bedmar’s designs. As the tradition of deep roof overhangs is not indigenous to the area, Bedmar has housed a steel gutter that protects the external wall surfaces from getting stained by snow, within the building envelope itself. The metal roofing folds neatly into a c-section steel gutter that is flush with the wood cladding on the outside of the house.
This timber cladding also meets cleanly at the corners of the house with a recessed cedar timber piece that is again completely flush with the timber cladding. Unlike the typical randomly staggered arrangement of timber cladding strips on traditional houses, the holiday house’s timber cladding is cut and sized so that the jointing aligns vertically and also coincides with the mullions of the fenestration below.
Also in keeping with the barn aesthetic, the first storey interior floors are heated, but are finished with the more rustic material of concrete screed while the cosy second storey floors are in carpet. Within the natural setting of the hillside, the simple and elegant forms by Bedmar and Shi sit comfortably and display the designer’s understanding of the regional appropriateness of the forms. With their clean recessed detailing, the purity of the barn forms is unencumbered and crisp, adding a modern layout onto the local building tradition.