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Timber Design Awards

Leigh Marine Centre Bunkhouse

The prominence given by a toughened building code to cavity-based timber cladding systems has of late raised them from the detail sheets of a few keen architects and builders into a national ‘common denominator’ for timber construction. The cavity is now almost universally understood to underwrite sound construction practice in a nation where rain, moisture and wind are all in abundance, and timber dominates the structural and material palette.

It has always been the responsibility of architecture to vigorously explore the opportunities latent in the methods and materials of its craft. The bunkhouse project is fundamentally about this exploration; its designers have committed great energy to exploiting the cavity, stretching and pulling it open until eventually they occupied the very space between skeleton and skin in this building. The building here is as a body; porous and breathable, its skin filters the harsh Kiwi light from the delicate study and resting places within, and slows the rumbunctious easterlies to allow for circulation spaces that are not buried inside the plan but located on its very edge, where the delights of an extraordinary setting and the changing of seasons and weather patterns can be viscerally enjoyed.

Other delights are found in the paring of an expanded, occupied cavity and its timber screen: freed from the plywood-sheathed weatherline, the cladding is liberated from the clumsy weight of flashings and tricky junctions. Great leverage is obtained from this new-found freedom, as the cheap Pinus radiata boards – softly-stained to promote a graceful period of slow, controlled aging – are exposed to both the interior and exterior and can shine as the defining element of the appearance and experience of this place.

This is an institutional project that houses students, squeezed together in a shared space of study and rest. Its budget was tiny; the client demanded a ‘vanilla’ shed that left as much funding free for future buildings to house the more serious pursuit of science.

The exploitation of the possibilities of the timber cavity have here enabled the designers to operate within those demanding constraints, whilst providing for a most lively of dwelling places. The softness and warmth of timber, both visual and tactile; the evolving projection of light through its crevices; the variety and delight afforded by carefully composed openings in a modular board system; the surprise of sharing a meal in a box projected out into space on the strength of its slender glulam enclosure – all of these things contribute to the making of a space both efficient and extraordinary. Used in this way, the most humble of Kiwi materials – the simple pine board – becomes a luxury we all can afford.


Winner – Cladding Building Envelope
NZ Wood Timber Design Awards 2009