I visited Lance and Nicky Herbst intheir Ponsonby studio, where they took me on a journey through their latest award-winning house over some local finger food. Not unlike their selective architectural palette, lunch was homegrown, regional, creative and flavourful.
The endlessly meandering, packed stone walls of rural Tutukākā introduce one to yet another incredible spot on this country’s spectacular coastline. Here, a deceptively precipitous site falls away dramatically as you punch through the foliage to an extraordinary view. The theatre of arrival is celebrated with a processional axial gallery, revealing moments and events along the way to expose a lively rock pool in the foreground and then focus on the Poor Knights Islands in the distance.
A gabion wall zigzags intentionally across the site, slicing the natural contour geometrically to create the building platforms for a trilogy of elegant, cleverly fractured and meticulously crafted pavilions.
From tarseal to gravel to chunky stone and rammed earth, softened by a diverse range of timbers treated as required, this is a masterful journey of transition and connection.
View, sun and contour are all juxtaposed on this typical coastal site and the diverse roof lines gesture to each of these elements to ensure the amenities are optimised. The age-defiant clients are physically active and the gym with wave pool is sensitively placed as a separate building. External access is landscaped from the main suite, while adjustable screens pivot to ensure privacy to the bathrooms.
The couple are also ardent travellers and the campervan occupies pride of place in the carport – one can’t help but admire it before descending towards the surprises that lie ahead. But this is home and, when the grandchildren visit, the site becomes a campground for their holidays. Fortunately, the architects were given full license to interpret this camping lifestyle without any limitations, other than a few material choices.
The main pavilion is a simple rectangular form, layered with complexity. A light building, loosely slung between two weighty rammed-earth bastions, one at each end, it occupies the edge and contains the view. Two fireplaces hold it all together. Solids transition to rhythmic perforations and the lanai opens up completely to both the view and the afternoon sun. Mood and light are controlled by moving screens and, when open, all large glazed panels are hidden from view, eliminating any unnecessary reflection in the landscape. An eyebrow eave extends the roof and blurs the transition, creating an interesting layering of the various spatial zones – down and out to the water, and up and over to the bush-clad hillside.
The kitchen bench is nudged out of the ‘box’, while the structural steel posts dance in front of the view like stylised pōhutukawa trunks, framing it poetically from every angle – a bold gesture, reminiscent of the typical beach view we Kiwis know and love. A low, horizontal ledge encourages one to sit and ponder and soak up the ever-changing coastline.
The bedrooms are quiet moments of delight, disconnected from the public spaces and with bathrooms simply-finished in beautifully detailed, natural timbers.
It has been difficult to master the waterproofing of rammed-earth elements (a client request), so that exploration was brief. Lance alludes to the fact that the challenging technical gymnastics of assembling a series of mainly perforated screens honestly onto structural elements to form a complying enclosure is simply exhausting – not surprisingly.
While Herbst’s early work mainly comprised the bare bach essentials, the expectations of clients have followed the elaboration of expanding briefs but, fortunately, budgets have kept pace with the considerable escalation in the value of bespoke buildings on such unique sites.
This hybrid building lies somewhere between the architects’ past achievements and the future – and it embraces elements of both. The post-and-beam language of sticks and rainscreens that this dynamic duo has mastered so vigorously is undergoing a transition of refinement and reduction, with a maturity that will reveal skins and forms with bigger gestures towards a new structural bias. How does one bend a straight line? This building may mark the last of an era… and I sense a turning point is imminent.