It’s hard to find good examples of arcadian architecture in New Zealand, and this always surprises me. Of all the places where I’d expect to find carefully designed building emerging from the landscape, sensitive integration with landscape, climate, and terrain I’m continually disappointed by the architectural mediocrity. At best we find designs that use vernacular themes – corrugated iron, chunky beams, and perhaps stone. And then a mad flurry of tussock or other grasses, a flax bush, a cabbage tree, or a spiky lancewood and bang, that’s it. Perhaps toss in a lichen encrusted artifact – a gate or trailer or something suggestive of rural and the job’s done.
But, no, I beg to differ. The job’s not done. Some how we still haven’t conveyed a message to architects that it’s bloody miserable and cold in winter. It’s baking in summer. When you shove a house up the landscape it looks like some sort of gesture of defiance, or like that beacon of hospitality in the hostility – a tramping hut on a isolated hillside. Our house makes a bit of an effort – one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place – the house in part arises from the berm of the toe of the hill. We couldn’t get over how cool it was in summer, and now, in winter, it’s not freezing beyond expectation.
I’d love to see a suburb with sympathetic houses, growing sensitively from the landscape, managing to clean some of the air and water, and generally looking more like a place to live in, sheltered with nature; rather than in spite it. And it’s not just simply some sort of koru integrated into the design. Whilst the spiral exists in nature, again, shoving this overlay doesn’t immediately turn the house into a ‘organic, flowing, back to nature’ anything. This isn’t about design 101, and those horrid pseudo-designs earnestly churned out in year 1.
Once we’ve shucked off this demand for mass produced, leaking building horrors, I believe it is possible New Zealand might become world leaders in arcadian architecture. We can take our straw bales, corrugated iron, stone, sculpted concrete, macrocarpa and douglas fir, and grow ourselves some elegant, sustainable, human scaled houses that work and age gracefully for their inhabitants, and with their environments. It might take a while, but I’m really looking forward to seeing and even better, living in some of them.