Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pakuranga Renovation – Organon Architecture

Boyes-Sketch_Plan_003-02 Here’s an interesting project I’ve been working on recently—renovation designs for an existing house in Pakuranga.Boyes-Sketch_Plan_003-Structure01 In essence, it involves the surgical insertion of a new steel and concrete upper floor over an existing one-storey, flat-roofed house (above), to add extra accommodation, and give a new double-height lounge (below).

Boyes-Sketch_Plan_003-Lounge It’s been fun to work on. And should be great to live in.

(Cross-posted at the Organon Architecture Blog)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: The Sociable Kitchen

Kitchens aren’t what they used to be—not that you’d know it from the antiseptic offerings in the trendy magazines and most of the kitchen showrooms. 

Kitchen are the place wherein the products of fire, light, earth and water are combined to become food; a place of experiment and sustenance.  In the modern house, the kitchen links family room, lounge dining room, breakfast space, BBQ area and more—and should open up to morning sun for breakfast, afternoon sun on the deck for barbecues, and mid-morning sun for coffee. Yet in this most  important space, where more money is spent per square metre than anywhere else in a house, “the kitchen industry - and kitchen designers - have to own up. The kitchens most people end up with look depressingly similar.” And dull.  And unable to really do what a kitchen should: support the essence of the kitchen

So let me tell you about a different kind of kitchen than you normally see: "The Sociable Kitchen." Not the place that Jona Lewie would always find himself in at parties, but somewhere in which you might be inspired to kick a party off.

Designer Johnny Grey talks about The Hardworking House, and he reckons in any house it’s the kitchen that’s the hardest-working room--especially with what he calls "The Sociable Kitchen."


The Sociable Kitchen is a place like a combination of Great Hall and the Great Kitchens of yor, but much better equipped and more fun to be in. Not so much just a kitchen that you need to hide, as a living room in which you can cook, i.e., "open plan living environments that unite social, practical functions and the outdoors in one multi-functional hub." 

_Quote My belief [ says Grey] is that the kitchen is effectively a sociable space, its origins lie in the hearth; cooking and eating are largely group or family activities; when done alone they become purely functional and provide a somewhat incomplete experience that is better for being shared."

The Sociable Kitchens Grey has pioneered are places that are pleasant in which to cook, to hang out, and to pass through—even (you might say especially) in relatively narrow or constrained spaces. akd2190-10-dunster-441x450

Here, by way of example, are three designs by his students for a Sociable Kitchen at the Obama White House.


Here’s another for a narrow three-metre space.

Jones01 Jones Kitchen 3 Jones Kitchen 2

Part of his method is that, rather than making "straight-line" kitchens that everyone will recognise as “the kitchen!”, he uses instead specialised pieces of furniture--often with curved or "soft" edges--each carefully located to perform a major kitchen function (e.g., storage, prep, serving, appliances) and linked to the scale of the space.  In a carefully designed kitchen (such as his own, in a remodelled garage), this might mean the preparation area might represent no more than 40 percent of the floor space--"the remainder being devoted to a comfortable and sociable lounging area... and integrated dining area, and a play space for our four children.  This," he says, "is typical of [our] recent divisions of kitchen space."

The concept involves something he sometimes calls “the unfitted kitchen,” especially suitable for spaces like the one shown here through which people will be moving to other related parts of the house.  Unfitted, today, means unrecognisable as a kitchen, allowing the sociability of the space to come to the fore. In Grey's designs these “unfitted kitchens” often involve a lot of curved elements (rather than straight) to reduce the visual presence of the units, and the presence of different units at different heights, from 700 right up to 950 (rather than continuous benchtops all at the same height) to help break up the normally monolithic kitchen furniture and invite people in.

By "people" he means guests as well as family. 

Using the popular Tripp Trapp chairs for children, for example, is one way to invite children in. 

And there are others.

The main thing is to embrace people rather than exclude them, something today’s traditional  straight-line fitted kitchens do poorly.

In a sociable kitchen you want lots of places to perch, and more work areas facing people than facing walls.  In the traditional galley  or U-shaped kitchens, however, this can be difficult, if not impossible.

Because as well as all the links to spaces beyond, the kitchen also needs to accommodate both the ideal work-flow of a main "inner" kitchen (i.e, storage -> prep -> sink -> cooker -> serving -> eating -> dirty dishes -> dishwashing -> crockery/cutlery storage) and the needs of the "outer" kitchen (e.g., snacks, sandwhiches, tea, coffee, cocktails) without either impinging on the other.

With Grey’s concept of the unfitted kitchen, the specialised pieces needed to do that can placed just right, needling less space and giving more delight than the normal "straight-line" kitchen layout.

As he says himself, "the science of marketing has taken over to a large extent when it comes to the design of our kitchens today," especially when it comes to the idea that size and straight-line continuous bench tops--made of the finest Italian marble--are the answer in today's kitchen.

But it doesn't have to be that way, says Gray at his blog.

_QuoteDuring the 1980s [and beyond], kitchens were created where you could not have conversations because the work surfaces faced the walls, showroom spaced, clad in plastic with shiny surfaces and matching doors. Domesticity was too old fashioned or simply too difficult to mass produce…
The focus [in designing kitchens] should be on creating spaces for living, eating, prepping and cooking. Instinct tells us everything we need to know. We want to be in a room because it feels like home.
A kitchen has simple needs: modest-sized, freestanding furniture pieces for each major function (like cooking, prepping and washing up), minimal countertops, a walk-in larder and a storage cupboard or two, a decent table, access to the outdoors and panoramic eye contact. And don’t forget about a place to make a mess, have a drink, chill out, experiment, and generally behave like you live there.
So throw out your matching units, continuous counters and matching doors with repetitive handles. You have nothing to loose but convention, and everything to gain. More space, less cost, more of you in the surroundings and less of being self consciously stylish, more playing with colour and use of vintage pieces. Enjoy discovering your inner interior designer.

And re-discovering even a tightly-constrained kitchen as a place to enjoy, rather than endure.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Proposal for a family home in Howick


This is a proposal to renovate an existing three-bedroom house in the older part of Howick, with elevated views towards Beachlands, Rangitoto and Waiheke.

Sketch-Drive-26GlenfernIt’s designed as a “three-zoned house,” with parents’ realm upstairs and downstairs at the end with the view, children's realm at the  afternoon/garden end of the house, and the shared realm in between.


The new spaces proposed for the house push the existing house out to views, to decks, to light and sun and gardens. The aim is an easy, informal, three-level family home within which the occupants may find adventure and delight—a house that is an extension of themselves -- connecting them to each other, to their grounds, and to the world beyond.




Thursday, June 03, 2010

Megson House, 40 Fern Glen Rd North, St Heliers – Claude Megson

There was only one lecturer at either of the architecture schools I went to who was worth a damn. Sadly, he died in 1994 while I was away in London concocting a cunning plan to come back to Auckland and devise some way to work with him.  This was his house, which has just come on the market:


From the Auckland Architecture Archive’s 'Megson in Auckland' guide:
_quote Megson created this house [at 40 Fern Glen Rd] for himself and his wife Cherie by partially demolishing and building over a modernist brick house by architect Professor Richard Toy (right), a senior colleague of Megson’s at the School of Architecture. (Remarkably, the Megson’s had lived in Toy’s house for 15 years before commencing work). The site – a corner section located on the brow of a steep rise - is vertiginous, and Megson’s extensions further emphasized the vertical. Toy’s house became a brick base over which a new timber superstructure was placed. Fixed to the downhill fa├žade, a series of balconies – cages of mesh and red-painted steel tube - project the spaces of the house out into the treetops.”
40FernGlenn004 A two-zoned house* with the kitchen acting as the “hinge” between the zones—a kitchen opening up to terraces and the sky, since Megson’s death in 1994, it has been bought and sold and renovated “utilising [says the estate agent now trying to sell it] the skill of a London-based architect and former student of Megson to ensure a reverential transformation.” For reverential, read “sterile.”
132468380_full Nonetheless, you can head to the agent’s site to see more pictures showing the house as it is now. 
Writing about Claude's house a few years ago, fellow-lecturer at Auckland’s Architecture School John Dickson said of it,
_quoteIt is impossible without the process of Megson's imagination to connect the cluster of small, confined rooms of the house as it was (right) to the expansive, multi-levelled, vertical-fissured, spatial-phantasm that it has become."
And English architectural critic Professor Geoffrey Broadbent, writing after a 1992 tour of Claude's Auckland houses had this to say:
_quoteThis," I said to myself, "is work of a very high international standard indeed." ...One is constantly struck by the surprise around the corner, the bright shaft of light penetrating from above into the softer glow of the main living spaces -- especially in Megson' own house – that give his work such very special qualities...
    “There is an essential "rightness" about Megson's spaces, for pleasant occupation by ordinary, normal human beings. Such things, says Dickson, have gone out of fashion with today's students. Well, so much the worse for the students [and their clients!].
    “Perhaps it hasn't occurred to them that if they design real spaces for human
comfort and pleasure, then even those anguished souls overwhelmed by post-Heideggerian problematics’ about the nature of their existence might, given spaces like Megson's to contemplate that nature of their ‘Being,’ come to more positive conclusions! Because that's the point about Megson's spaces; they are life-enhancing.”
Broadbent, for once, is exactly right; even if “the softer glow of the main living spaces” has now been transformed into something more stark, as below, you might still get a sense of what he meant.

Cross-posted at the Claude Megson Blog.

*Two-zoned house: A family home giving room and space to both parents and teenage children, with separate "parent's realm" and another realm -- either for children or for guests—which meet around kitchen and family areas.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

1 architect, one 32sqm apartment, 24 different layouts!

The layouts include kitchen, library, laundry room, dressing room, a lounge with a hammock, a home theatre with big screen, an enclosed dining area, a bathroom (with tub) and a wet bar.

Each arrangement is made possibly by a perimeter containing a wealth of cunningly designed and easily transformed pieces of multi-use furniture, and a series of ‘moving walls’ slung from ceiling tracks, each with its own cunningly designed accoutrements, that slide across to redefine and remodel the space.

It’s astonishingly ingenious.

Head here to see plans and diagrams. and here to see architect Gary Chang’s presentation of his ‘tiny-yet-large’ Hong Kong apartment at a Tokyo Pecha Kucha event last year.

[PS: Thanks, Sandrine, for the heads up.]


Monday, April 12, 2010




Frank Lloyd Wright maintained that the fundamental intention of good architecture, specifically of his “organic architecture,” was to make human life more natural and nature more humane. Clearly, that must begin with how your architecture is related to its surroundings, and vice versa.

To put it simply, the integration of site and architecture is paramount—and no-one has done that more successfully than Fran Lloyd Wright.

Charles & Berdeana Aguar’s exceptional book ‘Wrightscapes: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Landscape Designs’ looks at the spaces outside Wright’s magnificent houses, looking at the relationship between man-made and natural—between site and house. Because in every good design, neither can be understood without the other.

The Aguar’s offer this potent summary of the principles they identify as being identified with Wright’s landscapes—and I say “potent” because they identify principles worth applying to every house that attempts that goal, not just a Wright-designed one:

“Wrightscapes” Defined

    The eventual success of a cultivated environment is not merely the result of plants or structures upon the landscape, but rather the sum of both the tangible and intangible—that is, the unification of the substantive elements upon the site with the personalities and experiences of those who visit or reside in the total environment that has been created.
    Thus, this environment ultimately becomes both a literal and a sensual experience of the pervading essence—or spirit—of the place.  The amalgamation of criteria that creates this spirit-of-place should be, to a greater or lesser degree, inherent in each property…

  1. The residence was designed to meet the needs of a specific client and site, or was designed as a [speculative] home, and Wright or his representative personally provide input as to siting.
  2. The residence was orientated to take advantage of natural factors inherent to the site: optimum solar exposure, prevailing winds, views, natural terrain, existing trees, and other vegetation.
  3. The architecture and landscape treatment are responsive to and “at one” with the site—that is, there is a perceived (if not actual) interrelationship with the Nature of the site.
  4. The natural landscape has been preserved, or the structure and plantings present a total composition that follows the fundamental design elements of unity, harmony, scale, simplicity, colour, form and texture.
  5. The hardscape—outdoor furniture and construction, such as walls, paving material, water features, paths, parking areas—is in harmony with and suitable for the architecture.
  6. The softscape—plant material—is appropriate to the site and has been retained in a natural form…
  7. Extensions of architecture into the Nature of the site—balconies, verandahs, open porches, and outdoor rooms—have been retained to respect , or adapted to complement, Wright’s original design intent with respect to indoor-outdoor relationships.
  8. The passage of entry from property line to front door provides an experience in itself—and entry experience—with exposure to unifying and/or contrasting textures of both built and natural materials.
  9. There is a “sensed” experience of the total environment—a sense of place—that transcends bui8lding and plant materials, no only in what is seen, but in what is perceived: the feel of textures underfoot and of intermittent coolness and warmth to the skin; moving out from the shade and into the sun; the smell of flowers, grass, fruit, or any scents vivified by rain or air; the sounds of crunching gravel, singing and chirping birds, or splashing water; and other sensory qualities.

In other words, everything that can be done to put the occupants of the architecture into possession of their earth, and to remind them why life on this earth is worth living.

The pictures, by the way, are of the landscape around Wright’s own home in Wisconsin, Taliesin East.