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With its stratified material palette and simple, robust form, this new house is at one with the dramatic mountain landscape

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Spectacular mountain scenery demands a strong architectural response – a design that is informed by the surrounding landscape.

For this house near Queenstown, architect Preston Stevens says he took his cue from the mountains and their rocky outcrops.

"The house is a simple, robust form that complements the landscape. It sits on a stone plinth, which is an abstract interpretation of the natural rock outcrops that extend from the adjacent mountains – by-products of glacier action over past centuries."

The geological reference doesn't end there, however. Each storey of the three-level house reflects a different strata layer.

"The house appears to get lighter as it rises above the ground," says Stevens. "Above the schist base, there are large, chunky concrete and plaster columns that enable glazed voids to be created in the spaces between. Concrete and plaster are manufactured masonry products, and therefore more refined than natural stone. The timber-clad top of the house is further refined and lighter, referencing the growth of timber."

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Stevens says the slope of the mono-pitched roof also echoes the topography of the site.

To maximise the expansive mountain and lake views, and the sun, chunky columns support a series of large recessed windows beneath deep overhangs that provide shade to the interior.

"The box framing of the windows within the cedar cladding on the upper level also gives a shading effect and articulates the flat timber cladding detail," says Stevens.

Many of the windows are positioned to frame specific slices of the view. For example, a large window in the void above the dining room perfectly frames the majestic Remarkables mountain range.

"When you frame these views, it is like looking at the mountain through a camera – the scene is like a picture on the wall," says Stevens.

The design influences on the interior extend beyond the natural landscape, however. The architect says the owners, who lived in Japan for several years, wanted to introduce a Japanese sensibility to the house.

"Although a contemporary house was desired, it needed to incorporate elements of traditional Japanese architecture – but not the very minimalist modern style we have seen in recent Japanese architecture," he says.

The merging of the Japanese aesthetic with the natural topography can be seen on the interior. The sense of strata layers that determined the change in the material palette on the exterior is reflected on the inside. A narrow timber frieze runs through the house, at the precise level where the cedar cladding begins on the exterior.

"The frieze, which incorporates more than 3500 vertical battens and is strongly reminiscent of traditional Japanese screens, is a key linking element," says the architect. "In places where it forms a soffit, the underside is also timber, just as the cedar-clad top level forms flat eaves on the outside of the house."

The frieze elements accommodate lighting – both downlights that highlight specific items, and uplights that illuminate the ceilings.

In terms of the layout, Stevens says the design team chose to split the house in two, creating a Japanese private wing and more contemporary living areas.

"The house includes both a Japanese tatami room and ofuro bathroom. These are more private spaces, so it seemed sensible to make these rooms part of the master suite. However, the public areas still reflect a Japanese sensibility. The kitchen, for example, is effectively a timber island inserted into the middle of the house. Around the perimeter of this island are timber shelves for displaying the owners' collection of Japanese ceramics and mementoes."

To enhance its box-like look, the kitchen has a lowered silver beech timber ceiling and matching cabinets. These are contrasted by black basalt benchtops. The dining room features custom furniture made from similar materials.

In the Japanese wing, the tatami room is an extension of the master bedroom, and is used for relaxation. Its shape matches the proportions of the traditional tatami mats. The custom-designed windows feature shoji screens that incorporate imported rice paper.

The ofuro bathroom provides traditional Japanese washing and bathing facilities. Because the bath is permanently filled – like a spa – the room was designed as a double-lined, waterproofed wet room. From the bath, the owners can enjoy an expansive view of the lake and mountains, or a more intimate view of a traditional Japanese courtyard garden.

First published date: 13 April 2010

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Credit List

Architect Preston Stevens ANZIA, 2 Architecture Studio (Queenstown)
Builder GS Cayless Construction
Kitchen manufacturer Coronet Woodware
Landscape designer Land Landscape Architects
Cladding Solid plaster with Porters Mineral paint finish; western red cedar
Roofing Trough-section sheet metal; Calder Stewart V8 in Colorcote
Floor tiles Floor Gres, Colorlands; Modulo 4 in Greyland from The Tile Shoppe; Arketipo in Cenere from Jacobsen Creative Surfaces
Wall tiles Arketipo in Cenere from Jacobsen Creative Surfaces
Timber floors Saligna
Carpet Feltex Commercial Whitby
Wallpaper Marburg ULF Moritz from Swinson Wallcoverings
Wall panelling Southland silver beech veneer by Coronet Woodware
Paints and varnishes Resene
Lighting Aesthetics Lighting; Lighthouse Lighting; Halcyon Lighting; Southern Cross Lighting; ECC Lighting
Doors and windows APL Metro Series from Altherm Design Windows
Blinds Tuscany Parchment by Active Furnishers
Kitchen cabinets Southland silver beech veneer
Benchtops Natural basalt
Rangehood Miele
Dishwashers Fisher & Paykel Double DishDrawer
Awards NZIA New Zealand Southern Architecture Award 2009 Master Builders Association – National Gold Reserve Award 2009; Regional Supreme Award 2009; Gold Award New Homes over $1 million 2009; GIB Living Solutions Award 2009; Southland Glass Service Bathroom Excellence Award 2009; McKenzie and Willis Interior Style and Finish Award 2009; Local Category Winner Award 2009