23.11.15 by Nick Sayes



The site was a steep basin sloping down to the north east facing a sheltered bay on the eastern side of Waiheke Island. Two 100 year old Pohutakawa trees marked the transition from the earth to the sea. Three other houses occupy the bay, the adjoining house I designed in 2004 for another client.


An expat family residing in the UK who wished to re-establish their links with New Zealand so their children could experience life in the natural environment far from the metropolis of London. Their brief was, in their words ‘a brief for a flat site…but on a cliff’, and was extremely challenging without undertaking massive excavations or designing a house that was dislocated from the landscape.


The resulting design worked with the contour of the hill, benching the slope through three levels, and resulted in a series of spaces that interacted with the ground level vertically and were displaced running back up the hill while still remaining contained under one simple hipped roof form.

The parti was carefully considered to link the various functions with the appropriate ground level stepping up the hill, in terms of the direction of the view and the path of the sun. An additional restraint was a 6.0m height limit that followed the level of the ground.


The house is formed under a simple hipped roof, cut in half following the contour of the hill. It follows the original line of the ground level at the maximum height permitted. The entry, on the mid level, leads one to the centre of the house to a triple height atrium that leads down to the living level below. Three bedrooms are arranged around this central atrium. Also on this level is the garage / boathouse, which was conceived as a dual use ‘fale’ space that could be occupied in the afternoon hours to make the most of the evening sun. The living area opens on to a small lawn and swimming pool and has a direct connection with the beach below. The beach, shaded by the pohutakawa trees, is seen as the lowest level of the house and is well occupied in summer.

The very highest level of the house, in the peak of the hipped roof is a bunk room with space for 7 to sleep. This area opens onto a western deck and connects the house back to the hill rising up above.

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