8 Bunker Homes: shelters for extreme climates, geographies and pandemics

While bunker-like architecture hasn’t always found widespread appeal, in precarious times like these when we’re spending more time at home than ever before, the idea of living in a solid protective shelter somehow makes sense – even if it's confrontational. Here, eight bunker-like homes around New Zealand possess the sublime and haunting power of Brutalism.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team
Created with sketchtool.
Created with sketchtool.
Situated on a remote coastal hillside, perforated metal screens provide protection when DNA House is unoccupied. Photograph by Simon Devitt.
Situated on a remote coastal hillside, perforated metal screens provide protection when DNA House is unoccupied. Photograph by Simon Devitt.

Brutalism's utilitarian roots

New Zealand’s extreme climates and dramatic landscapes provide the ideal setting for bold sculptural forms. But, no matter the climate or geography, during challenging periods of history – often as a result of wars and recessions – robust, monolithic forms of architecture have inevitably become more attractive.

Think about Brutalism, which emerged in the UK in the 1950s out of a need to rebuild its war-torn cities quickly and efficiently following World War II. The UK sought inexpensive construction and design methods to build housing, shopping centres, and government buildings. At the same time, nuclear war felt like a very real global threat as the Cold War escalated between the USA and the Soviet Union.

As a reaction to the traditional ways of the past and influenced by socialist principles, Brutalist buildings were designed to be utilitarian – simple, functional, honest, rugged and low cost. With exposed structures and minimal ornamentation, they adopted striking geometries and a monochromatic colour palette, typically built in concrete. The second most consumed material in the world after water, concrete was – and still is – easy to obtain and to construct.

As a reaction to the traditional ways of the past and influenced by socialist principles, Brutalist buildings were designed to be utilitarian – simple, functional, honest, rugged and low cost.

The backlash to Brutalism

However, by the late 1970s, Brutalism had become extremely polarising and was often criticised for being bleak, cold and soulless. Its raw, unfinished concrete had become scarred with the ravages of time and rain, and a global recession led to growing urban decay in many countries, including the UK.

Since then, the wider public hasn’t found much affection for Brutalist buildings, and examples of Brutalism frequently fill up polls for buildings the public would most like to demolish – and, indeed, many have been. They have created somewhat of a cultural battleground in many cities. Even Prince Charles waded in on the debate, describing Brutalist buildings as ‘piles of concrete’ and famously calling the Royal National Theatre on London’s South Bank a ‘monstrous carbuncle’!

Adopting the strong geometric form and raw exposed concrete of a utilitarian Brutalist home, Pt Chevalier House by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects is in fact a modern urban home designed for  coastal living.
Adopting the strong geometric form and raw exposed concrete of a utilitarian Brutalist home, Pt Chevalier House by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects is in fact a modern urban home designed for coastal living.

The influence of Brutalism on New Zealand architecture

In New Zealand, Sir Miles Warren’s practice Warren & Mahoney spearheaded what was known as the ‘Christchurch School’ of architecture, a fusion of the Brutalist style with the simple beauty of Scandinavian and Japanese architecture; he was responsible for the iconic Christchurch Town Hall. Other prominent examples of Brutalism in New Zealand include Wellington’s National Library, the QEII Army Memorial Museum and public toilets in Waiouru, and the Departmental Building in Whanganui.

In New Zealand, the debate around Brutalism has been ongoing with proposed demolitions of many Brutalist-style buildings around the country, such as Mount Cook’s George Porter Towers, designed by the late great architect Sir Ian Athfield. Even when the threat of the wrecking ball isn’t looming, many Brutalist buildings sit on a list of New Zealand’s ‘most hated buildings’, including Nelson’s Civic House and Palmerston North’s City Council Building at 32 The Square.

And, yet, Brutalism has maintained a special kudos within the architectural community and among many architecture lovers, who celebrate its functionality and its connection with the realities of modern life. While Brutalism hasn’t always aged gracefully, there’s a certain honesty and truth to the style – a 'what you see is what you get, warts and all' approach. 

Like a fortress against the elements; Island Bay House by Tennent Brown Architects. Photograph by Paul McCredie.
Like a fortress against the elements; Island Bay House by Tennent Brown Architects. Photograph by Paul McCredie.

Brutalism today

Today, a softened version of Brutalism has appeared on our shores, seen in the examples below. This new bunker-like architecture still carries the distinctive robustness and sculptural quality of Brutalism, along with a sense of utilitarianism and functionality but it’s much richer and more balanced by open and transparent elements. In key areas, glazing overlooks landscape views and internal courtyards, while flexible penetrations, such as louvred shading and perforated screens, create privacy and protection without being overly monolithic or blocking off essential light into the interior. These homes are all about shelter.

So why has this largely unpopular style endured? Maybe Brutalism's graphic aesthetic makes it instantly recognisable in a world proliferated with social media imagery, or maybe its fortress-like demeanour makes us feel safe and secure in this crazy world of pandemics and climate change. Is Brutalism's legacy still influencing architecture today due to its sheer bloody-mindedness? In 1955, as Brutalism was emerging, writer Reyner Banham suggested that it was an attempt to create an architectural ethic and not just an aesthetic. Perhaps, now is the time we as a society – and in architecture – are reassessing and asking 'what are our values and ethics are going forward into this new world?'

Words by Justine Harvey.

Below, in no particular order, we’ve selected nine modern bunker-like homes in New Zealand that possess the sublime and haunting power of Brutalism.

1. In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects

The award-winning In-situ House (above) is substantial in vision, scale and expression, pushing the boundaries with a massive in-situ concrete pour into moulds fashioned from old Victorian architraves, and a dramatic helical concrete stair that circles up from the garden and into the home. Inside, concrete has again been poured into intricate Victorian moulds, which are complemented by wood panelling with the same patterning.

In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photography by Mark Smith.
In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photography by Mark Smith.

2. Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects

Designing with in-situ concrete creates stunning sculptural forms with a surface texture formed by rough-sawn timber moulds. At Point Chevalier House, the client and builder, Ross Bannan, AKA the ‘concretologist’, relished the challenge to construct his own home that is designed to highlight its coastal location where wind, sun and salt represent the aggressive forces of nature on a building. Inside, the textural timber surface on the concrete is “an indirect expression of the carpentry skills required to create these forms”, suggests the architect.

Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects.
Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects.

3. Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates

On Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, a picturesque view of a white-sand beach fringed with pohutukawa trees belies the steep, east-facing coastal escarpment where Local Rock House sits and looks out. Local materials help the form to merge into the topography from certain perspectives. A horizontally placed rock wall offers a strong structural element to both the exterior and interior. Beneath the rock, the living area leads to an intimate living terrace with a grotto-like western courtyard.

Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates. Photography by Simon Devitt.
Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates. Photography by Simon Devitt.

4. DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects

Designed as a coastal retreat for a NYC-based family, DNA House is an elevated structure with a series of bi-folding perforated metal screens that help to filter light and provide protection when the home is unoccupied. The DNA of the family was sampled and the coded patterns combined to form the delicate perforation pattern in the protective screens. A roof hatch at the apex connects the interior to the sky at night for stargazing. 

DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects. Photography by Simon Devitt.
DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects. Photography by Simon Devitt.

5. Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects

On a tight 45m-high clifftop site prone to gale-force winds and stormy weather, Island Bay House responds to its unpredictable and exposed maritime location, with dramatic ocean views. Coastal rocks below the site have inspired a composition of angular blocks with a channel cut-through, creating a lantern effect that allows light and views to penetrate the two-storeyed volume. Zinc cladding wraps the form, providing durable, weathertight and low-maintenance protection against the elements, including salt-laden southerly winds.

Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects. Photography by Paul McCredie.
Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects. Photography by Paul McCredie.

6. Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie

The L-shaped form of Cross House provides shelter from the road, neighbouring houses and prevailing weather, creating a sunny and sheltered courtyard area for outdoor living. A screened glass link forms the sandwich filling in between a pair of two-storey concrete boxes, with a timber-screened penetration in each box forming the entrance and garage door. The exposed pre-cast panels have a rough-sawn timber surface, adding a weathered patina to the concrete.

Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie Architecture. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie Architecture. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

7. Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects

Waiheke Island House features an unusual composition with the upper floor divided into small cells – suggestive of Japanese Ryokan architecture and tree huts. Here, latticed shutters provide shade from the western sun, security to the sleeping perches, pixilated landscape views, along with shelter from any storms that can drive in from the south-west. Between a pair of towering cedar blocks is an informal glazed pavilion that acts like a camp-site under an awning that opens on both sides to a grass hill facing the coast or, when the prevailing wind blows in from the south, a sheltered eastern courtyard.

Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

8. Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects

Arrowtown Retreat sits within the dramatic mountainous landscape of central Otago, drawing influence from the corrugated iron-clad huts that were first introduced to the region by Chinese miners during New Zealand’s Gold Rush in the 1860s. The house is heavily sculpted with complex geometry so walls slope in different directions. Like a crevasse in the glaciers of the Southern Alps, the trapezoidal shape of the sliding front door was determined by a quirky space created between two volumes. Inside, the seductive cedar-rich interior offers a cosy contrast to the shiny, angled exterior.

Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

Get in touch with
ArchiPro

Request pricing/info
Visit website
Recommended reading
Done tagging

8 Bunker Homes: shelters for extreme climates, geographies and pandemics

While bunker-like architecture hasn’t always found widespread appeal, in precarious times like these when we’re spending more time at home than ever before, the idea of living in a solid protective shelter somehow makes sense – even if it's confrontational. Here, eight bunker-like homes around New Zealand possess the sublime and haunting power of Brutalism.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team
Created with sketchtool.
Created with sketchtool.
Situated on a remote coastal hillside, perforated metal screens provide protection when DNA House is unoccupied. Photograph by Simon Devitt.
Situated on a remote coastal hillside, perforated metal screens provide protection when DNA House is unoccupied. Photograph by Simon Devitt.

Brutalism's utilitarian roots

New Zealand’s extreme climates and dramatic landscapes provide the ideal setting for bold sculptural forms. But, no matter the climate or geography, during challenging periods of history – often as a result of wars and recessions – robust, monolithic forms of architecture have inevitably become more attractive.

Think about Brutalism, which emerged in the UK in the 1950s out of a need to rebuild its war-torn cities quickly and efficiently following World War II. The UK sought inexpensive construction and design methods to build housing, shopping centres, and government buildings. At the same time, nuclear war felt like a very real global threat as the Cold War escalated between the USA and the Soviet Union.

As a reaction to the traditional ways of the past and influenced by socialist principles, Brutalist buildings were designed to be utilitarian – simple, functional, honest, rugged and low cost. With exposed structures and minimal ornamentation, they adopted striking geometries and a monochromatic colour palette, typically built in concrete. The second most consumed material in the world after water, concrete was – and still is – easy to obtain and to construct.

As a reaction to the traditional ways of the past and influenced by socialist principles, Brutalist buildings were designed to be utilitarian – simple, functional, honest, rugged and low cost.

The backlash to Brutalism

However, by the late 1970s, Brutalism had become extremely polarising and was often criticised for being bleak, cold and soulless. Its raw, unfinished concrete had become scarred with the ravages of time and rain, and a global recession led to growing urban decay in many countries, including the UK.

Since then, the wider public hasn’t found much affection for Brutalist buildings, and examples of Brutalism frequently fill up polls for buildings the public would most like to demolish – and, indeed, many have been. They have created somewhat of a cultural battleground in many cities. Even Prince Charles waded in on the debate, describing Brutalist buildings as ‘piles of concrete’ and famously calling the Royal National Theatre on London’s South Bank a ‘monstrous carbuncle’!

Adopting the strong geometric form and raw exposed concrete of a utilitarian Brutalist home, Pt Chevalier House by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects is in fact a modern urban home designed for  coastal living.
Adopting the strong geometric form and raw exposed concrete of a utilitarian Brutalist home, Pt Chevalier House by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects is in fact a modern urban home designed for coastal living.

The influence of Brutalism on New Zealand architecture

In New Zealand, Sir Miles Warren’s practice Warren & Mahoney spearheaded what was known as the ‘Christchurch School’ of architecture, a fusion of the Brutalist style with the simple beauty of Scandinavian and Japanese architecture; he was responsible for the iconic Christchurch Town Hall. Other prominent examples of Brutalism in New Zealand include Wellington’s National Library, the QEII Army Memorial Museum and public toilets in Waiouru, and the Departmental Building in Whanganui.

In New Zealand, the debate around Brutalism has been ongoing with proposed demolitions of many Brutalist-style buildings around the country, such as Mount Cook’s George Porter Towers, designed by the late great architect Sir Ian Athfield. Even when the threat of the wrecking ball isn’t looming, many Brutalist buildings sit on a list of New Zealand’s ‘most hated buildings’, including Nelson’s Civic House and Palmerston North’s City Council Building at 32 The Square.

And, yet, Brutalism has maintained a special kudos within the architectural community and among many architecture lovers, who celebrate its functionality and its connection with the realities of modern life. While Brutalism hasn’t always aged gracefully, there’s a certain honesty and truth to the style – a 'what you see is what you get, warts and all' approach. 

Like a fortress against the elements; Island Bay House by Tennent Brown Architects. Photograph by Paul McCredie.
Like a fortress against the elements; Island Bay House by Tennent Brown Architects. Photograph by Paul McCredie.

Brutalism today

Today, a softened version of Brutalism has appeared on our shores, seen in the examples below. This new bunker-like architecture still carries the distinctive robustness and sculptural quality of Brutalism, along with a sense of utilitarianism and functionality but it’s much richer and more balanced by open and transparent elements. In key areas, glazing overlooks landscape views and internal courtyards, while flexible penetrations, such as louvred shading and perforated screens, create privacy and protection without being overly monolithic or blocking off essential light into the interior. These homes are all about shelter.

So why has this largely unpopular style endured? Maybe Brutalism's graphic aesthetic makes it instantly recognisable in a world proliferated with social media imagery, or maybe its fortress-like demeanour makes us feel safe and secure in this crazy world of pandemics and climate change. Is Brutalism's legacy still influencing architecture today due to its sheer bloody-mindedness? In 1955, as Brutalism was emerging, writer Reyner Banham suggested that it was an attempt to create an architectural ethic and not just an aesthetic. Perhaps, now is the time we as a society – and in architecture – are reassessing and asking 'what are our values and ethics are going forward into this new world?'

Words by Justine Harvey.

Below, in no particular order, we’ve selected nine modern bunker-like homes in New Zealand that possess the sublime and haunting power of Brutalism.

1. In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects

The award-winning In-situ House (above) is substantial in vision, scale and expression, pushing the boundaries with a massive in-situ concrete pour into moulds fashioned from old Victorian architraves, and a dramatic helical concrete stair that circles up from the garden and into the home. Inside, concrete has again been poured into intricate Victorian moulds, which are complemented by wood panelling with the same patterning.

In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photography by Mark Smith.
In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photography by Mark Smith.

2. Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects

Designing with in-situ concrete creates stunning sculptural forms with a surface texture formed by rough-sawn timber moulds. At Point Chevalier House, the client and builder, Ross Bannan, AKA the ‘concretologist’, relished the challenge to construct his own home that is designed to highlight its coastal location where wind, sun and salt represent the aggressive forces of nature on a building. Inside, the textural timber surface on the concrete is “an indirect expression of the carpentry skills required to create these forms”, suggests the architect.

Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects.
Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects.

3. Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates

On Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, a picturesque view of a white-sand beach fringed with pohutukawa trees belies the steep, east-facing coastal escarpment where Local Rock House sits and looks out. Local materials help the form to merge into the topography from certain perspectives. A horizontally placed rock wall offers a strong structural element to both the exterior and interior. Beneath the rock, the living area leads to an intimate living terrace with a grotto-like western courtyard.

Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates. Photography by Simon Devitt.
Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates. Photography by Simon Devitt.

4. DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects

Designed as a coastal retreat for a NYC-based family, DNA House is an elevated structure with a series of bi-folding perforated metal screens that help to filter light and provide protection when the home is unoccupied. The DNA of the family was sampled and the coded patterns combined to form the delicate perforation pattern in the protective screens. A roof hatch at the apex connects the interior to the sky at night for stargazing. 

DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects. Photography by Simon Devitt.
DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects. Photography by Simon Devitt.

5. Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects

On a tight 45m-high clifftop site prone to gale-force winds and stormy weather, Island Bay House responds to its unpredictable and exposed maritime location, with dramatic ocean views. Coastal rocks below the site have inspired a composition of angular blocks with a channel cut-through, creating a lantern effect that allows light and views to penetrate the two-storeyed volume. Zinc cladding wraps the form, providing durable, weathertight and low-maintenance protection against the elements, including salt-laden southerly winds.

Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects. Photography by Paul McCredie.
Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects. Photography by Paul McCredie.

6. Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie

The L-shaped form of Cross House provides shelter from the road, neighbouring houses and prevailing weather, creating a sunny and sheltered courtyard area for outdoor living. A screened glass link forms the sandwich filling in between a pair of two-storey concrete boxes, with a timber-screened penetration in each box forming the entrance and garage door. The exposed pre-cast panels have a rough-sawn timber surface, adding a weathered patina to the concrete.

Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie Architecture. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie Architecture. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

7. Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects

Waiheke Island House features an unusual composition with the upper floor divided into small cells – suggestive of Japanese Ryokan architecture and tree huts. Here, latticed shutters provide shade from the western sun, security to the sleeping perches, pixilated landscape views, along with shelter from any storms that can drive in from the south-west. Between a pair of towering cedar blocks is an informal glazed pavilion that acts like a camp-site under an awning that opens on both sides to a grass hill facing the coast or, when the prevailing wind blows in from the south, a sheltered eastern courtyard.

Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

8. Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects

Arrowtown Retreat sits within the dramatic mountainous landscape of central Otago, drawing influence from the corrugated iron-clad huts that were first introduced to the region by Chinese miners during New Zealand’s Gold Rush in the 1860s. The house is heavily sculpted with complex geometry so walls slope in different directions. Like a crevasse in the glaciers of the Southern Alps, the trapezoidal shape of the sliding front door was determined by a quirky space created between two volumes. Inside, the seductive cedar-rich interior offers a cosy contrast to the shiny, angled exterior.

Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

Get in touch with
ArchiPro

Request pricing/info
Visit website
Recommended reading
Done tagging

8 Bunker Homes: shelters for extreme climates, geographies and pandemics

While bunker-like architecture hasn’t always found widespread appeal, in precarious times like these when we’re spending more time at home than ever before, the idea of living in a solid protective shelter somehow makes sense – even if it's confrontational. Here, eight bunker-like homes around New Zealand possess the sublime and haunting power of Brutalism.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team
Created with sketchtool.
Created with sketchtool.
Situated on a remote coastal hillside, perforated metal screens provide protection when DNA House is unoccupied. Photograph by Simon Devitt.
Situated on a remote coastal hillside, perforated metal screens provide protection when DNA House is unoccupied. Photograph by Simon Devitt.

Brutalism's utilitarian roots

New Zealand’s extreme climates and dramatic landscapes provide the ideal setting for bold sculptural forms. But, no matter the climate or geography, during challenging periods of history – often as a result of wars and recessions – robust, monolithic forms of architecture have inevitably become more attractive.

Think about Brutalism, which emerged in the UK in the 1950s out of a need to rebuild its war-torn cities quickly and efficiently following World War II. The UK sought inexpensive construction and design methods to build housing, shopping centres, and government buildings. At the same time, nuclear war felt like a very real global threat as the Cold War escalated between the USA and the Soviet Union.

As a reaction to the traditional ways of the past and influenced by socialist principles, Brutalist buildings were designed to be utilitarian – simple, functional, honest, rugged and low cost. With exposed structures and minimal ornamentation, they adopted striking geometries and a monochromatic colour palette, typically built in concrete. The second most consumed material in the world after water, concrete was – and still is – easy to obtain and to construct.

As a reaction to the traditional ways of the past and influenced by socialist principles, Brutalist buildings were designed to be utilitarian – simple, functional, honest, rugged and low cost.

The backlash to Brutalism

However, by the late 1970s, Brutalism had become extremely polarising and was often criticised for being bleak, cold and soulless. Its raw, unfinished concrete had become scarred with the ravages of time and rain, and a global recession led to growing urban decay in many countries, including the UK.

Since then, the wider public hasn’t found much affection for Brutalist buildings, and examples of Brutalism frequently fill up polls for buildings the public would most like to demolish – and, indeed, many have been. They have created somewhat of a cultural battleground in many cities. Even Prince Charles waded in on the debate, describing Brutalist buildings as ‘piles of concrete’ and famously calling the Royal National Theatre on London’s South Bank a ‘monstrous carbuncle’!

Adopting the strong geometric form and raw exposed concrete of a utilitarian Brutalist home, Pt Chevalier House by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects is in fact a modern urban home designed for  coastal living.
Adopting the strong geometric form and raw exposed concrete of a utilitarian Brutalist home, Pt Chevalier House by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects is in fact a modern urban home designed for coastal living.

The influence of Brutalism on New Zealand architecture

In New Zealand, Sir Miles Warren’s practice Warren & Mahoney spearheaded what was known as the ‘Christchurch School’ of architecture, a fusion of the Brutalist style with the simple beauty of Scandinavian and Japanese architecture; he was responsible for the iconic Christchurch Town Hall. Other prominent examples of Brutalism in New Zealand include Wellington’s National Library, the QEII Army Memorial Museum and public toilets in Waiouru, and the Departmental Building in Whanganui.

In New Zealand, the debate around Brutalism has been ongoing with proposed demolitions of many Brutalist-style buildings around the country, such as Mount Cook’s George Porter Towers, designed by the late great architect Sir Ian Athfield. Even when the threat of the wrecking ball isn’t looming, many Brutalist buildings sit on a list of New Zealand’s ‘most hated buildings’, including Nelson’s Civic House and Palmerston North’s City Council Building at 32 The Square.

And, yet, Brutalism has maintained a special kudos within the architectural community and among many architecture lovers, who celebrate its functionality and its connection with the realities of modern life. While Brutalism hasn’t always aged gracefully, there’s a certain honesty and truth to the style – a 'what you see is what you get, warts and all' approach. 

Like a fortress against the elements; Island Bay House by Tennent Brown Architects. Photograph by Paul McCredie.
Like a fortress against the elements; Island Bay House by Tennent Brown Architects. Photograph by Paul McCredie.

Brutalism today

Today, a softened version of Brutalism has appeared on our shores, seen in the examples below. This new bunker-like architecture still carries the distinctive robustness and sculptural quality of Brutalism, along with a sense of utilitarianism and functionality but it’s much richer and more balanced by open and transparent elements. In key areas, glazing overlooks landscape views and internal courtyards, while flexible penetrations, such as louvred shading and perforated screens, create privacy and protection without being overly monolithic or blocking off essential light into the interior. These homes are all about shelter.

So why has this largely unpopular style endured? Maybe Brutalism's graphic aesthetic makes it instantly recognisable in a world proliferated with social media imagery, or maybe its fortress-like demeanour makes us feel safe and secure in this crazy world of pandemics and climate change. Is Brutalism's legacy still influencing architecture today due to its sheer bloody-mindedness? In 1955, as Brutalism was emerging, writer Reyner Banham suggested that it was an attempt to create an architectural ethic and not just an aesthetic. Perhaps, now is the time we as a society – and in architecture – are reassessing and asking 'what are our values and ethics are going forward into this new world?'

Words by Justine Harvey.

Below, in no particular order, we’ve selected nine modern bunker-like homes in New Zealand that possess the sublime and haunting power of Brutalism.

1. In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects

The award-winning In-situ House (above) is substantial in vision, scale and expression, pushing the boundaries with a massive in-situ concrete pour into moulds fashioned from old Victorian architraves, and a dramatic helical concrete stair that circles up from the garden and into the home. Inside, concrete has again been poured into intricate Victorian moulds, which are complemented by wood panelling with the same patterning.

In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photography by Mark Smith.
In-situ House, Auckland, by Stevens Lawson Architects. Photography by Mark Smith.

2. Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects

Designing with in-situ concrete creates stunning sculptural forms with a surface texture formed by rough-sawn timber moulds. At Point Chevalier House, the client and builder, Ross Bannan, AKA the ‘concretologist’, relished the challenge to construct his own home that is designed to highlight its coastal location where wind, sun and salt represent the aggressive forces of nature on a building. Inside, the textural timber surface on the concrete is “an indirect expression of the carpentry skills required to create these forms”, suggests the architect.

Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects.
Point Chevalier House, Auckland, by Ponting Fitzgerald Architects.

3. Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates

On Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, a picturesque view of a white-sand beach fringed with pohutukawa trees belies the steep, east-facing coastal escarpment where Local Rock House sits and looks out. Local materials help the form to merge into the topography from certain perspectives. A horizontally placed rock wall offers a strong structural element to both the exterior and interior. Beneath the rock, the living area leads to an intimate living terrace with a grotto-like western courtyard.

Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates. Photography by Simon Devitt.
Local Rock House, Waiheke Island, by Patterson Associates. Photography by Simon Devitt.

4. DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects

Designed as a coastal retreat for a NYC-based family, DNA House is an elevated structure with a series of bi-folding perforated metal screens that help to filter light and provide protection when the home is unoccupied. The DNA of the family was sampled and the coded patterns combined to form the delicate perforation pattern in the protective screens. A roof hatch at the apex connects the interior to the sky at night for stargazing. 

DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects. Photography by Simon Devitt.
DNA House, Coromandel, by Crosson Architects. Photography by Simon Devitt.

5. Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects

On a tight 45m-high clifftop site prone to gale-force winds and stormy weather, Island Bay House responds to its unpredictable and exposed maritime location, with dramatic ocean views. Coastal rocks below the site have inspired a composition of angular blocks with a channel cut-through, creating a lantern effect that allows light and views to penetrate the two-storeyed volume. Zinc cladding wraps the form, providing durable, weathertight and low-maintenance protection against the elements, including salt-laden southerly winds.

Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects. Photography by Paul McCredie.
Island Bay House, Wellington, by Tennent Brown Architects. Photography by Paul McCredie.

6. Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie

The L-shaped form of Cross House provides shelter from the road, neighbouring houses and prevailing weather, creating a sunny and sheltered courtyard area for outdoor living. A screened glass link forms the sandwich filling in between a pair of two-storey concrete boxes, with a timber-screened penetration in each box forming the entrance and garage door. The exposed pre-cast panels have a rough-sawn timber surface, adding a weathered patina to the concrete.

Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie Architecture. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Cross House, Omaha Beach, by Julian Guthrie Architecture. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

7. Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects

Waiheke Island House features an unusual composition with the upper floor divided into small cells – suggestive of Japanese Ryokan architecture and tree huts. Here, latticed shutters provide shade from the western sun, security to the sleeping perches, pixilated landscape views, along with shelter from any storms that can drive in from the south-west. Between a pair of towering cedar blocks is an informal glazed pavilion that acts like a camp-site under an awning that opens on both sides to a grass hill facing the coast or, when the prevailing wind blows in from the south, a sheltered eastern courtyard.

Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Waiheke Island House, Cable Bay, by Mitchell Stout Dodd Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

8. Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects

Arrowtown Retreat sits within the dramatic mountainous landscape of central Otago, drawing influence from the corrugated iron-clad huts that were first introduced to the region by Chinese miners during New Zealand’s Gold Rush in the 1860s. The house is heavily sculpted with complex geometry so walls slope in different directions. Like a crevasse in the glaciers of the Southern Alps, the trapezoidal shape of the sliding front door was determined by a quirky space created between two volumes. Inside, the seductive cedar-rich interior offers a cosy contrast to the shiny, angled exterior.

Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
Arrowtown Retreat, Central Otago, by Bull O’Sullivan Architects. Photography by Patrick Reynolds.

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