The Chemis Cabin - DCA Architects of Transformation | ArchiPro

The Chemis Cabin

A retreat to nature

Nestled unobtrusively within a lifestyle property in Hamurana, Rotorua, ‘The Chemis Cabin' is a simplified structure of three interconnected ‘cells’ that have been designed as short-term rental accommodation.

“The clients have owned the property for 30 years and have undertaken a major landscape master plan that has resulted in a substantial established garden and regenerated natural bush,” says Werner Naude, Principal Partner of DCA Architects of Transformation. 

“They wanted to create cabin-like structure that combined thoughtful consideration of the experiential nature of the environment and passivhaus design principles. This became the key driver to DCA’s approach—leveraging the potential from the setting in concert with the principles of sustainable design.”

This began with the physical location of the cabin, skewing sightlines away from neighbouring properties while maximising solar orientation for the living space. 

“Creating a sense of retreat was central to the success of the project,” says Werner. “Minimising the footprint and incorporating large-scale glazing allowed us to magnify that feeling. Programmatically, we have created three cells—a living space incorporating a kitchenette, a bathroom space and a bedroom space—connected by a semi-outdoor entry space. In setting it up in this way, by venturing outside to move between rooms, there is an almost permanent feeling of being connected to the outdoors.” 

This indoor-outdoor dichotomy is established early on when visitors arrive at the cabin and are greeted with an outdoor bath, which Werner says has the effect of accurately representing the simplicity and privacy afforded by the location while setting up the tone for the spirit of the property.

“Visitors immediately feel distanced from civilisation but in a calming, nurturing sense. The design response is ultimately about connecting people with nature and the environment. 

“Similarly, the interiors have been designed to convey the feeling of being simple, protected enclosures with minimal colour and distraction so that one’s focus is continually drawn to the external surroundings.” 

To provide protection from adverse weather, or for an increased sense of security at night, the outdoor link can be secured by shutting the large sliding wall, which also serves the purpose of allowing the owners to completely close down the cabin when it’s not being used and visually reduces the cabin to little more than a box-like form.

“The most elemental integration of a structure into the landscape is achieved with a simple form,” says Werner. “We have taken this concept to create a simple, rectangular shape punctuated only by windows, reducing the roofline, too, to a simple plane rather than a pitched roof, which would have introduced another material and cluttered the visual detail.

“We have then clad the entire structure in a single cladding material—Douglas fir from Kaingaroa forest—to complement the garden setting and to allow the structure to age over time, becoming an even more integrated part of the environment.”

Internally, low-VOC materials were chosen for their environmentally friendly characteristics and a rainwater dispersal system and heat recovery system installed.

“The cabin is also super-insulated and air tight,” says Werner.

Photographer: Nick Lambert // DCA Architects 

Words: Justin Foote

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Minimal, clean lines help the building nestle into its surroundings and reinforce the ESD principles behind its design.
The cabin has been sited on the land to enhance the sense of solitude and to maximise solar gain.
By placing the bathtub at the entrance to the cabin, the architect says visitors are immediately made aware of the connection to the surroundings that the design establishes.
The outdoor bathtub allows guests to soak up the tranquility of the private setting and to commune with nature.
The entry space connects the three 'cells' that comprise the building and compels visitors to venture outside in order to move between the spaces.
At every turn the connection to the verdant outdoor scene is brought to the fore.
The owner's installation of extensive lighting throughout the garden adds another dimension to the view from the lounge area when night falls.

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