New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1998
Tree House — A Bush Enveloped Home Provides a Model for Living Among the Trees
A band of high windows on the northern face of the house floods the living space with sunlight. The lounge chairs are from Robert Terry Design (09-302 2972) and the coffee table and shelving unit are by Michael Draper Design (09-376 5800).
Photography: Patrick Reynolds
Delicately slotted into Auckland's tree-clad Waitakere ranges, Graham Wrack and Neale Gover's house comfortably wears the label of a 'tree house'. It seems to grow out of the bush floor, thrusting its roof skyward to catch the sun's rays. Although its roots are firmly planted in the ground - the piles were driven down 7m into the wet earth-all its movement is upward towards the leafy canopy.
It was Graham's dream as an architect to design a house in the bush, an environment which he says lends itself to experimentation. Friend Neale added the necessary experience and enthusiasm to help make the dream happen. Rather than building to a particular client's needs and fancies, the pair decided to create the architecture first, then find someone to fall in love with it. This meant they were limited only by the site and their budget.
The site, alone however, set up some enormous challenges. After looking at a dozen sections in and around Titirangi they settled on a steeply sloping piece of land covered in bush, with a very wet substrata and a large hill to the north.
"Obviously it hadn't been built on because it was a difficult site, but during that initial half-hour walk around, I could see how a house could fit between the mature trees," says Wrack.
After a local environmental protection officer helped map out the big native trees, he set about designing a house that would comfortably stand amongst them. A soaring kahikatea is so close to the house you can reach out and touch it from the balcony and an old puriri with a trunk over a metre in diameter stands on the front boundary, its branches laden with epiphytes.
The hill to the north necessitated a house that faces south, so Graham angled the roof to follow the slope of the site and inserted a band of high windows to capture the sun. Sun floods the living space from midday in winter and all day in summer, while Graham points out that surrounding houses get no sun at all during the winter months.page break
Inside, an architect's attention to detail is demonstrated. The idea of a tree house is expressed by partially exposing the structure. Floor joists and herringbone blocking are exposed in the ceilings of all but the main living area, where Fijian kauri plywood highlights the sloping ceiling. The exposed timber is plantation grown Lawson cypress, which fills the house with a lovely spicy aroma. This approach created its own challenges though. Without a ceiling space to conceal wiring and plumbing, track lighting had to be used and some clever plumbing.
Bands of floor to ceiling louvres and high windows in the upstairs bedrooms emphasise the bush experience by framing views of spectacular kauri, rimu and rewa rewa trees. Windows at either end of the hall allow a view the length of the house and out to the bush in both directions.
At ground level, a door opens from the back of the house to a wooden bridge and shell pathway which winds away through the bush. Here, Graham and Neale have planted 250 trees to ensure total privacy. In place of conventional spouting, 'chain drains' direct water running off the roof toward the roots of trees sheltered by the house's shadow.
Rather than imposing itself on the landscape, this is a house that resides in a symbiotic relationship with it. "The challenge," says Graham "was firstly to disrupt the bush as little as possible and secondly to produce something which was not just housing, but architecture on a tight budget". It's a dream definitely fulfilled. HBpage break