AW Architects’ Lake House honours heritage and place, yet is anything but expected

In association with First Windows & Doors.

From afar, this trio of silhouettes huddled together beside a pond could be mistaken for agricultural buildings. On arrival, you learn that although they’re structurally similar to the humble forms of the local rural tradition, these buildings have been designed not for farming but for living.
In the Wakatipu Basin, you’ve got your pick of majestic mountain views. Christchurch-based AW Architects’ sights were set on framing moments within the landscape, rather than exposing all the scenery all the time. “The brief was pretty clear that it was not to be a big glass pavilion,” says principal Andrew Watson. “That was the big one, really, that it needed to be designed as a refuge within the rugged environment and of the place. 

MAIN IMAGE The property’s surrounding mountains and position on the edge of a pond informed how the home came together as three buildings. “In a location like this, it’s really hard not to respond to that dramatic landscape,” says Andrew. Multiple types of timber were used for the build, including cedar panelling throughout, with various stains; a beam in the living space salvaged from a local bridge; and tonka beams with cedar sarking inside the maimai (far right). ABOVE APL Architectural Series bifold doors mirror the other side of the living pavilion. The large artwork on the wall here is Dasneue Custsmuseum by Michael Morley.

“The whole idea of the local vernacular sounds like a cliché in a Southern Lakes District context, but that’s the reality — this is where the clients grew up and this is their experience of the local architecture,” he continues. So he and project architect Prue Johnstone (who was on the AW Architects team at the time) devised a plan that would gather together three forms rooted in agricultural aesthetics — two ‘sheds’ and a ‘maimai’ — each with a distinct purpose. The home’s main door is set deliberately deep into the first (guest) pavilion, which houses the guest quarters, the laundry and the garage. Beyond this, a ribbon of in-situ concrete runs through the house, leading you through a glazed walkway of Metro Series custom windows from First Windows & Doors to the second (living) pavilion.

TOP Metro Series ThermalHeart bifold doors from First Windows & Doors, with Icon stainless steel hardware, allow the home’s inhabitants to respond to the environmental extremes. In summer, they open them to cool down the living pavilion inside and put their living spaces outside to good use, then in winter, the doors’ additional thermal insulator stitched into the core of the aluminium window system works to keep things warm.

“The challenging thing about creating three quite distinct pavilions is — for me, anyway — that you want to arrive into the heart of the house, which in my mind is the kitchen, without transferring past everyone’s bedrooms and the bathroom,” says Andrew. “The concrete that runs through this house drags you from the front entrance and swiftly gets you to the kitchen, without realising that you’ve been through half of the house already. It was a bit of a trick, really.”

TOP A breakfast bar sits next to the kitchen and near an APL Architectural Series custom servery window from First Windows & Doors that creates a lovely little link to the outdoors. On the wall to the right is Self-Portrait by Jeffrey Harris. ABOVE “We wanted a thermally broken suite, and we use Metro Series ThermalHeart on most of our projects,” says Andrew of the joinery. “[For the guest pavilion], it met all the design considerations in terms of wind loading, then in the living pavilion [above], we moved to the APL Architectural Series for a little more height in the window profiles. The two suites work really well together. “
The domestic journey continues through another glazed walkway connecting the public sheds with the private zone of the home — the maimai, as it’s known. Much like its namesake, this space has been designed to cling to the lake’s edge, but with a few more creature comforts than birdwatchers and duck hunters would usually expect! Here in the main bedroom and adjoining bathroom, the concrete theme continues with a Thermomass wall that reaches out to a covered alcove connected through glazed stacker sliding doors from First Windows & Doors. Set into a rolling hillock and shrouded in naturally weathering timber and Corten steel, it really makes you feel as if you’re at one with the landscape; it’s a true escape in which the owners can enjoy their own private view of the serene scene beyond. 

TOP Surrounded by a concrete hearth poured in-situ at seat height, the fireplace was custom-made from black steel that was waxed to retain the grain and bluey hue of the raw sheet. Overhead, the grooved ceiling contributes extra texture, while underfoot, the polished- and exposed-concrete flooring created using local gravels offers interesting flashes of colour that make it appear almost terrazzo-like. ABOVE To accentuate the sharp edges of the guest pavilion, the gutters are hidden behind the steel cladding. Eyebrow-like sunshades around the windows continue the minimalist look while casting eye-catching shadows.

In contrast, the sheds stand proud against the rugged ridgeline. Deceptively simple in form, each is given its own character through meticulous detailing. The living pavilion is clad in black cedar, selected for its warmth and tactility to reflect the communal goings-on in this shed, where family time unfolds in the kitchen, dining and living areas. Here, Metro Series ThermalHeart bifolds can be flung open to let the easy living continue out into the enclosed courtyard, which is sheltered from the elements by the pavilions it sits between, along with a series of stacked timber shutters to the west, which pivot to protect the space from the prevailing winds. 

TOP & ABOVE Scaled to match the width of the jetty jutting into the pond, the glazed links crafted from Metro Series custom windows provide a sense of journeying from one building to another. “We wanted them to be intimately detailed, and the way the timber connects to the steel column and the black anodised joinery was a big part of that,” says Andrew. “People really respond to the sensory experience.” The artworks pictured top are Remembrance by Max Gimblett, and above is a light box by Michael Parekōwhai.

“This outdoor area is the main entertaining space,” says Andrew. “You’ve got a nice big outdoor fire that’s back-to-back with the inside fire, and when you open up the screens to engage with the landscape, it’s a pretty amazing setting, but it can be shut down to be more intimate too.”

TOP Behind the main bedroom in the maimai, this luxurious bathroom is another space that delights the senses. On the wall is corrugated iron artwork Weaving by Jeff Thomson. ABOVE Nifty sleep spaces in the loft above the garage provide a fresh take on the bunkroom concept. “We love creating houses that have lots of nooks and crannies that you can engage with others in — or not,” says Andrew.

Rounding out the trio, the galvanised steel covering the guest pavilion has the most utilitarian appeal of all. The matte grey cladding is punctuated with ribbed detailing, and sharp insertions surrounding silver anodised picture windows further emphasise the play on light and shadow. 

TOP In contrast to the more open kitchen, dining and lounge area, the library in the living pavilion is an introspective spot with more diminutive awning windows, above which hangs 15 Drawings by Colin McCahon. Working with interior designer Kay Gray, the homeowners opted for a cocooning material palette, part of which is the black-stained cedar that continues in from the exterior. “In the minor spaces, it’s all about your sight lines to the view,” says Andrew. “You can connect with the outdoors by walking all the way up [to the window], or you can sit back and get a sense of it as a backdrop to life.” ABOVE Here, a Metro Series ThermalHeart sliding door with colour-matched Urbo hardware lets the outside in. “With the lake and the small hill beside it, the idea with the maimai was to use that mound as much as possible to hunker down into the landscape,” says Andrew. “A real focus on this project was directing the spaces so you could orientate out of the wind, into the wind, into the sun, out of the sun, and have myriad different spots around the plan to be comfortable in.”
“They work in a couple of ways: with the modulation on the main form, as it’s quite a solid structure, and to create an ‘eyebrow’ to help with sunshade for the interiors as well,” says Andrew. “The way they tie in with the ribs has all been worked out to get the sharp shadows. The interplay of light is a really special way to amp up the mood — and almost highlight the solidity, in a way.

ABOVE At this home of contrasts, the gabled roof of the living pavilion gives way to the asymmetrical form of the maimai, which almost twists in on itself to create a secluded space separate to the other structures. Hard landscaping forms outdoor living zones between and around the buildings, utilising the site to its full potential. At the water’s edge, a rendered concrete wall guards a fire pit.

“Having a house that you can shut down — turning parts on, turning parts off to respond to your needs —has been a real success here,” he continues. Functioning together and apart, with the ability to host two or even 20 family members and friends, this is a rural idyll that’s strongly evocative of days gone by, yet sitting firmly in the present.

Words Alice Lines
Photography Sam Hartnett

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