Great Scott

Words by Peta Nicols
Photography Simon Devitt

Vaughn McQuarrie designed this house in Dunedin for clients while living in Edinburgh, Scotland, giving this modern dug-in home a Scottish connection.

Bagpipes, landscape, the town plan and now this house are all things that connect Dunedin, New Zealand to Edinburgh, Scotland. The designer, Vaughn McQuarrie, grew up in Invercargill and was working in Edinburgh when he was commissioned by a schoolmate to design him and his partner a house.

The house sits on a section on the edge of a cliff with an outlook of sea, rugged rocks and a quarry. It is at the end of a long drive at the end of a dead-end road on the fringe of Dunedin. This is not a light landscape, and while the more relaxed northern climate may enable a shelter to merely consist of a glass box, the Deep South means that this approach is not really appropriate. A house in Dunedin needs to be a retreat, one that is warm and protective. The house does this, settling into its landscape through the design of a curvaceous concrete retaining wall. The curve, in continuation of the cliffs below – a connection that is observed on approach to the house – signifies a shift away from the other box forms and creates architectural interest and compelling outdoor spaces.

The planning is organised by the establishment of three boxes: a concrete and stone box houses a garage and storage, and two cedar-clad boxes house the bedrooms and living space. Entry into the house is at the intersection of these boxes. This in-between space is sheltered, but the continuation of the exterior cedar cladding intimates that one is not quite inside yet. The acknowledgement and the separation of these pavilions, is resolved by the introduction of a frameless glass window at each of the connection points, also making them weather tight.

Once inside, one naturally drifts towards the living pavilion, partly due to its position and partly due to one already having already surveyed the extent of the site and knowing that the best views are in that direction. The living pavilion is a simple space and contains a kitchen, a dining area and a lowered living room. Black rock aggregate from the quarry seen from the site is used in the black concrete floor, and the timber detailing and joinery creates warmth and an inherent connection to the natural landscape. A picture window at the end of this room frames the edge of the land. The green pastures, the cliff face, and the sea are enticing and immediately draw one down into this space.

To the south of the living pavilion, McQuarrie has indulged himself with a single glass box. Slightly lowered from the kitchen and dining space, it is a small intermediate space with timber floors and large glass doors that pull back to expose the occupants to the sounds and tastes of the site. Here, one can experience more than the picturesque views and be immersed in a dusting of sea spray and the sound of the wind whipping across the grass. Despite the distances between architect and site during the design phase of the house the result is a house that is very much of place; a place filled with memories. urbis

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