Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects

Crosson Architects creates stealthy lifeguard tower on remote New Zealand beach

Local studio Crosson Architects used dark-coloured concrete to help the circular Te Pae lifeguard tower blend in with its setting on a remote black-sand beach near Auckland, New Zealand.

The structure is located on North Piha beach west of Auckland, which is regarded as one of the country's most beautiful but dangerous surf beaches.

North Piha beach in New Zealand
Te Pae lifeguard tower is located on North Piha beach

Crosson Architects described the lifeguard tower as a "piece of coastal sculpture" that was designed as a beacon so visitors to the beach can easily identify it.

United North Piha Surf Lifesaving Service commissioned the Auckland-based studio to design a practical and durable tower to replace an existing structure that was no longer fit for purpose.

Black-concrete lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
It is designed by Crosson Architects to blend in with its setting

"The brief was for a robust, low-maintenance building that would withstand the severe North Piha coastal environment," the studio explained.

"It needed to provide accommodation for four lifeguards with excellent visibility along the beach – a building that was functional and responded to its context."

Children sat close to Te Pae lifeguard tower in New Zealand
It is built from dark-coloured concrete

The project's name, Te Pae, was given to the tower by the indigenous Māori tribe, the Te Kawerau ā Maki. The name means "to perch" and describes the building's function as a place to sit and observe.

Its circular shape references traditional maritime observation buildings around the New Zealand coast that are used to patrol popular seaside areas. A band of windows provides views in both directions along the beach from the observation area.

Lifeguard tower made from black concrete
Its form references traditional maritime observation buildings

Its modest scale is intended to help it sit quietly in the rugged and picturesque landscape, while its form and dark colour evoke the dramatic natural surroundings of dunes and rocky cliffs.

"North Piha is unusual in that the sand is black," the studio added. "The black oxidised concrete references this and the curved form reflects the undulating dunes that the building sits amongst."

The circular motif continues inside the tower, where a wood-lined skylight allows daylight to enter the central spiral stair and a porthole-like window provides a view back to the nearby clubhouse.

The Te Pae lifeguard tower was constructed using prefabricated concrete sections that were assembled on site to minimise disturbance to the delicate ecosystem of dunes and coastal plants.

Interior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
A circular motif runs throughout the project

Operable windows and the opening in the roof allow warm air rising through the building to escape from the upper floor.

The concrete structure's thermal mass and high levels of insulation also help to maintain a comfortable internal environment without requiring artificial cooling.

Interior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
A band of windows provides views along the beach

Elsewhere in New Zealand, Fearon Hay Architects recently created a holiday home with black shutters and a concrete wall, while Cheshire Architects used local materials to create The Hotel Britomart.

Woods Bagot and Warren & Mahoney completed the Te Pae Convention and Exhibition Centre, which features a curved facade clad in herringbone tiles.

The photography is by Sam Hartnett.

More images and plans

Entry level of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Entry level
Observation level of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Observation level
Roof level of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Roof level
Interior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
View of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Interior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Exterior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects
Interior of Te Pae lifeguard tower by Crosson Architects