Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects

House in New Zealand sits on a concrete plinth surrounded by trees

Herbst Architects has raised a house in Piha, New Zealand, on a concrete plinth and steel stilts to give views through the dense woodland to the beach.

Called Kawakawa House, Auckland-based practice Herbst Architects designed the building to be open to its dramatic natural site, which includes a canopy of pōhutukawa trees.

Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects

"Being overhung by dense foliage and shaded by mountain peaks to the east and north, the site is extremely sun-challenged," explained the practice.

"The concept for the design developed out of the need to maximise sun ingress and enable visual engagement with the beauty of the tree canopy."

Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects

Herbst Architects placed a simple box-shaped house on a concrete plinth that projects out and is supported by slim steel columns, with a spiral staircase for access.

Facing westwards out towards the ocean, the front of this box can be opened with a series of sliding doors. A glass balustrade shelters the kitchen, living and dining area from the wind.

Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects

Doors can also be opened onto an outdoor courtyard space with a decked floor and seating in the centre of the first floor.

Bedrooms have been arranged in the home's more sheltered eastern half, where full-height glazing has been swapped for slim picture windows that frame views of the forest.

Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects

Two larger bedrooms sit either side of a bunk room, which leads out onto a private timber bridge connecting the house directly to the surrounding natural landscape.

Around the top of the home wraps a glazed clerestory, which draws light down into the living spaces with the help of angled plywood ceilings.

Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects

Dappled light entering the home through the tree canopy outside creates a changing atmosphere throughout the day.

Internally, this contrast between exposure and shelter is mirrored in the use of both light wood and dark birch panels which line the more private spaces of the home.

Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects

In the bathrooms, deep green glass mosaic tiles are reminiscent of the tree canopy outside, and provide a textured surface for the dappled light from the clerestory to move across.

Kawakawa House has been longlisted for a Dezeen Award. In 2018 Kawakawa House was also awarded the Sir Ian Athfield Award for Housing at the New Zealand Architecture Awards.

Other residences in New Zealand that engage with the natural landscape include Andrew Patterson's remote Seascape Retreat, and Vaughn McQuarrie's cottage on Waiheke Island.

Photography is by Patrick Reynolds.

More images and plans

Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects
Ground floor plan
Kawakawa House by Herbst Architects
First floor plan