Strong family ties to beach bach

19:58, Nov 30 2012
Oakura beach house
"The horizontal forms and cantilevered first-floor structures add to a reduction of scale and visual weight by expressing horizontality," says architect Shaun Murphy of the beach house he designed.

Architectural graduate Shaun Murphy's first project might prove to be his most testing - and why not, when it is for family. His clients, aunt Catherine and dad Kevin, were discerning, and while they appreciated his skills and didn't want to add to his self-imposed pressure, they wanted to ensure the build would be the warm and welcoming family base they envisaged.

"It was a challenge, we knew it would be, we really gave it to him, but we knew Shaun would understand what we wanted to achieve," Kevin says.

"We got the site about six years ago. We paid a reasonable amount for it, but property along the beach at Oakura is sought after. It had an old house on it. We sold that, it was removed and is now a farm cottage elsewhere."

Kevin's sister Catherine Landrigan, a co-owner, says for years the two families holidayed in the original cottage contemplating a new build. They had an exercise book at the bach, so people could add to the wish list as ideas came to mind.

"My sister-in-law and I both wanted a decent clothes line. We'd both experienced lots of kids, beach towels and clothes and knew it was a necessity."

Kevin, Catherine and partners presented a simple brief to the design team - separate living spaces for two families, to allow both to be there together, but also with reasonable shared open-plan living. And it had to be sandwiched on to a long and narrow section, that slopes towards Oakura Beach with one third of the section actually on the beach.


"Context was incredibly important to both the client and us, as architects," 25-year-old Shaun says.

"It was important to assimilate the beach house into the surrounding built environment through scale, form and materiality, contributing to the architectural culture of the seaside village while at the same time satisfying the client's functional needs."

"The exercise book wish list was a starting point," explains Catherine. "We didn't have a build concept, as such. We just wanted to see the sea and not have views obstructed."

Both the clients and architectural team were mindful of difficulties the site presented.

"Erosion was a problem," says Kevin. "We wanted to build for rising sea levels, there are sea walls that create a barrier and an original rock wall that needs reinstating."

It was a challenging site.

He needed to consider the salt spray and winds when selecting materials and be equally attentive to clients' desires to have a building that melted into the environment rather than stood out as a statement.

"We're modest people. We didn't want the beach house to stick out like a show home. When you stand on the beach and look up, it just fits in. It doesn't stand out as a great monstrosity, he's done an awesome job," Catherine says.

Under the watchful eye of New Plymouth architects Boon Goldsmith Bhaskar Brebner director Murali Bashkar, Shaun thought and researched hard before selecting materials.

The solution is an exterior cladding of cedar, plywood and macrocarpa used in a contemporary way.

With plenty of glass and the clever use of exterior cedar slats there is a view from street level right through the house to the sea, ensuring the vision of the sea remains a part of the street and village; it becomes an active medium, with the view passing through, both ways.

"A point of difference is this feature wall at the rear of the house. Deep vertical timbers offer the privacy required of a residential dwelling, but at a glimpse from the street the public capture a framed view of the ocean through the building, extenuating the horizontal form of the structure while at the same time acknowledging the site on a community level," Shaun says.

It is not surprising the team was considerate of the surrounding Oakura community. Kevin has fond memories of holidaying with his parents and siblings in the village and while that family beach house was not right on the beach they spent much time in the sea and on the sand.

"When we had young kids we had the opportunity to stay in the beach house, so I was able to share it all with them."

But with that beach house sold, Kevin, Catherine and partners decided they would try to replicate the beach experience for their children and generations to come.

"Catherine has five children and we have three so we knew we would need individual space but also the ability to accommodate extended family," Kevin said.

Catherine saw the build as a chance to create something for the future to ensure both families continued to stay close.

"We wanted to create a base the kids would always want to return to, a family focus, somewhere to be together. We all work well as a unit and we wanted to preserve that. The beach house needed to be somewhere central to come back to, and as the families extend and expand we wanted it to be a meeting point.

"The architectural solution was originally derived from function, with the living and sleeping spaces forming two boxes plugging into one another, reducing the overall bulk of the structure," Shaun. "It's of a scale aligned to the surrounding environment, the horizontal forms and cantilevered first floor structures further add to a reduction of scale and visual weight by expressing horizontality."

High ceilings accentuate the feeling of space in the open-plan shared communal living area; contrasting against the lower ceilings in the bedroom which create a warm and more intimate environment.

"The interior comprises bamboo flooring with plywood, white painted walls and ceilings, mixing the contemporary and beach house typologies. The use of bamboo flooring was particularly important," Shaun says. "The clients wanted to use timber where possible to enhance the 'beach-house' aesthetic, so we offered them a hard-wearing, sustainable solution."

The design reflects the credo of BGBB's team of architects where Shaun works.

"We endeavour to work with all elements of sustainable design with our residential clients, which includes the use of local and/or sustainable material resources where possible," Murali says.

The build relies solely on passive heating. Kevin is optimistic that with double glazing and clever use of materials the beach house will retain heat and provide for comfortable living even in the winter.

"We'd like to think we can get away with no heating, but we'll see," he says. "We haven't experienced a winter there yet."

All dozen of the Murphy and Landrigan families are getting together at the beach house this weekend to experience the new build together for the first time.

"The nature of a beachfront property often ensures that the house is exposed to all the natural elements, predominantly the prevailing northwesterly wind," Shaun says.

"So the courtyard space acts as a relief from the elements as well becoming an architectural feature. It offers an extension to the kitchen space and allows the client to enjoy a comfortable outdoor atmosphere. "

It is a protected courtyard Shaun will get to experience personally. This architectural graduate will enjoy his own design work from the inside, understanding how it "lives", over a few drinks with family and friends. For any architect the chance to experience a design in living terms would be a learning opportunity not to be missed, the fact he is able to have that experience first up must surely create some giant strides on his path to architectural excellence.

The Dominion Post