House on a Rock - South by Southeast Architects | ArchiPro

Built into the curved rock formations of the Port Hills, this architect’s own home is a design masterclass in biophilic forms and materiality.

On the slopes of the Port Hills in Christchurch, houses enjoy unencumbered, expansive views. It’s a breathtaking vista, and it was the opportunity to sit within this landscape and respond to the existing volcanic rock formations, that captivated South by Southeast Architecture’s director Ken Powrie and his wife Sarina, when choosing a spot to design their family home.

“One of the aspects that really resonated strongly with us when we first came up here was the changing aspects that you come through – the wind, rain and mist comes from pretty much 360 degrees. The identity of the site changes every day, every hour, and that's part of the beauty of it.”

The site's connection to the sea and mountain landscape was also important for the active family of four, as they like to get outdoors and enjoy mountain biking and surfing. Equally, the architecture and its response to the site needed to connect with and celebrate nature.

”The forms were essentially drawn or taken from the landscape. The shape of the curved roof not only helps it nestle into the landscape, but it’s also carefully designed for solar gain inside the home in the winter and to protect against the bitter easterly wind.”

The added bonus to this biophilic shape is that it opens the house to the view of the sea and the mountains on both sides, while creating privacy from neighbours. Beneath the curved roof form are three pods, also derived from the curves in the landscape.

The pods create enclosures for bedrooms, bathrooms and garage spaces, with a large open living space between and the generous curves of the building shelter outdoor living from prevailing easterly winds.

The form of the entire home is wrapped in a timber deck, and while excavating on site in preparation for the foundations, it was discovered that layers of sedimented rock were naturally occurring at the rear of the house, which meant the decking was designed to accommodate those curvaceous forms.

The commitment to curves and organic texture is mirrored in the interior, where the palette and materials were chosen to celebrate nature.

“My wife and I spent a lot of time thinking and discussing materials and colour palettes and texture. We wanted a materiality that changed with the light, so each of those material elements was put together to help create a sense of warmth and contrast.”

Textured recycled brick retrieved from condemned buildings in the Christchurch earthquakes was used for the walls of the pods, and this is contrasted by sculptural slabs of rosewood for the door frames and window reveals. The residue of old creeping vines is apparent on some of the bricks, nodding to a rich and layered history.

The timber detailing in the house is both meticulous and magical. The timber clad doors are designed to sit flush against the walls, with the grooves in the timber cladding aligning exactly to the walls. The effect is of hidden rooms and mysterious places.

The nail heads dotting the walls are copper, providing another warm and whimsical detail.

In the master suite, the pair have created a jaw-dropping sanctuary with a standalone bath that takes in the view – creating a transcendent moment away from a busy family and work life.

Ken says the home was designed for both practical functionality and to delight the family in their day-to-day experience of the space.

“For me personally, there are hidden elements to the house and by that I mean it changes with the play of light during the day, so you're always finding little moments of joy as you move around the house, and you're always getting surprised.”

Words: Jo Seton

Photographer: Sarah Rowlands

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House on the Rock | South by Southeast Architects | ArchiPro
The glass pavilion living space allows you to see right through the house out to the view.
The curved roof lifts to frame the view and hunkers down at each end of the house to provide privacy from neighbours.
At the rear of the house, the deck is cut around the existing rock formations.
A dreamy view of the mist is captured from the breezeway between the house and garage pods.
The kitchen island reflects the same curves and warm materiality as the rest of the house.
Ken serves his daughters at the kitchen island; the family home has spectacular indoor-outdoor flow for ease of family life.
A view of the sea, captured from the interior of the glass living pavilion.
The internal facings of the pods are wrapped in recycled brick, complete with the traces of creeping vines.
A wall and door paneled in a dark, stained cedar sit flush with each other when closed.