When Grand Designs NZ announced it was featuring a house built at Pakiri, I was immediately interested. The British program had been fascinating and the first two New Zealand programs had been interesting and I have a long familiarity with the region and, in particular, the beach.
The house was called The Crossing built on the Pakiri Tablelands subdivision for Scottish expat Scott Lawrie, who divides his time between Auckland, Pakiri and Sydney. Laurie, an outgoing Scotsman, who lived in Sydney before moving to Auckland lives alone with his dog Skip and travels frequently for work. To find the site, he drew a circle around the airport with a radius of an hour-and-a-half’s drive. Pakiri just made it. ( Source: Homes to Love)
Not, in my book, a promising start as it did not suggest any particular affinity for the area because I was expecting, probably unreasonably, the building would in some way reflect the unique character of the area. What the program focused on was the technical aspects of the building and the determination of Scott Laurie to produce a piece of sculpture.
The house overlooks iconic Pakiri Beach and in the distance, Little Barrier Island.
The great thing about Pakiri, then and now, is that it is the first East Coast beach north of Auckland that is not built out by suburban and holiday house development. When you’re on the beach, you get some of the sense of isolation that you get on the West Coast, that of wide flat open seascapes, so typical of Piha, Te Henga, and Karekare. But none of the moody atmospherics, it is much sunny, happier place.
I first started visiting Pakiri in my late teens, some 55 years ago and my last visit was with my mother when she was in her early 80s, so Pakiri was very much part of growing up and old in New Zealand.
It is typical of much of the East Coast of New Zealand, long flat expanses of white sand. It lacks the rugged brooding grandeur of the West Coast but what you do get is the sense of immense, almost limitless, space. And if you spend enough time there as you grow up, this landscape becomes part of you in the way that W H Auden describes in his magnificent poem In praise of limestone.
This sense of place is something that many New Zealand poets such as Allen Curnow, James K. Baxter, A. R. D. Fairburn, Denis Glover, R. A. K. Mason, Keith Sinclair and M.K Joseph described when they examined the extent to which the landscape shaped the national and individual consciousness. And also the way that the Europeans shaped the landscape and the lives of the first inhabitants. It was not always a happy relationship.
Leave us alone, For when you come, Among us we are nothing We have no voice anymore
Must be opened with sufficient speed, Sold for a sufficient price, And tribes given sufficient faith for salvation When nothing is sufficient
Keith Sinclair Waitara
But could be different at a personal level
We climbed down and crossed over the sand and there were islands floating in the wind-whipped blue and clouds and islands trembling in your eyes, and every footstep and every glance was a fatality felt and unspoken our way rigid and glorious as the sun’s art, unbroken as the genealogy of man
A R D Fairborn The Cave
And there are paintings, such as Motukorea by next-door-neighbour Don Binney
We have works by both Binney and Palmer hanging in our Richmond home in Australia. They are part of what you call the heartstrings.
Being an expatriate sharpens your sense of home and in many ways clarifies and possibly idealises the important images that you have from a previous life. So I bought a lot of expectations to the Pakiri version of Grand Designs New Zealand.
All of which were disappointed. What the program did was make me reflect on what I did expect and the answer was that I wanted it to play to my particular set of prejudices and memories of the area. Completely unreasonable of course but it crystallised into the question, “Should architecture honour the landscape?” Underlying the question is the idea that a building should respect and acknowledge the nature of the landscape it occupies. This is not always possible of course but in some situations it may be possible and appropriate.
There are buildings in New Zealand that I think do this.
Herbst Architects’ version of a rustic shed
Fearon Hay cottage on the east coast of Great Barrier Island
Ponting Fitzgerald Queenstown house
Scrubby Bay by Pattersons Associates
And I suppose there is another question. It’s a question of responsibility. In this case, what responsibility do you have as an expatriate Scotsman, living in Sydney and deciding to build in New Zealand on the basis of proximity to an airport, to honour the landscape?