Journal | October 2017
Recently I had a discussion with a client around Site Selection, an activity for which architects have typically been immersed and engaged with. The challenge historically was to identify the “Genius Loci” or "spirit of a place", a practice globally widespread across all cultures particularly in a historic and mythological context.
From European sacred buildings occupying sites of importance and dominance, to cities such as Tokyo located with a mountain range behind for protection and facing the sea as a source of commerce and prosperity. Beijing’s famous Forbidden City site was “designed” with the spoils of the earthworks from the surrounding moat being deposited to form a hill behind, both for perceived protection as well as evocative of the mythical tortoise in traditional Feng Shui- but clearly providing shelter from the cold North winds.
Vitruvius, the famous architect and author on the subject published "10 books on architecture" 20-30BC, which for many years were used as the textbook for site selection. Many of these principles hold true today as do his three most important values, firmitas, utilitas, venustas; literally firmness, commodity and (aesthetic) delight. His view on site selection follows:
“It should be elevated, not cloudy, not liable to frost, facing those regions of the sky which are neither hot nor cold but temperate. In addition, if at all possible, proximity to swamps is to be avoided.” ( Book 1 )
It is generally recognised that these books were not solely a result of Vitruvius’ observations and fascinating that the subject and these values seem both timeless and to reflect "a universal truth".
Located in proximity to one of Auckland’s volcanic cones, the site is enclosed by adjacent suburbia and micro-utopia. The plan is introspective with living areas centred around a courtyard opening to sub-courtyards. Rooms are grouped according to their function and programme; these groups are conceived of as a collection boulders defining the boundary of the building.
Concealed within the centre of Remuera, this three-story house is both firmly anchored to the ground while extending cantilevered rooms doubling as functional covered living areas. The approach optimises floor area to the site and footprint both for economy and aesthetic. A challenge was to connect living areas logically in north with views across towards to the existing pool area to the south.