Scarborough House Borrmeister Architects | ArchiPro CA

Hewn from Red Rock

A cliff-edge build with extremely difficult access meant that carving out a home on this Scarborough Hill site was an exciting challenge for Borrmeister Architects.

The combination of a difficult cliff-edge site and extremely challenging logistical issues meant that Red Rock House, on Scarborough Hill in Canterbury, was an exercise in tenacity for both client and architect. The small 400m2 site (of which a third is a right-of-way access) is found on the cliff face on a private accessway road, which is hewn from red volcanic rock and teeters above the coastline.

If the location wasn’t already challenging enough for transporting materials to site, the road closures (caused by damage resulting from the Canterbury earthquakes) forced a narrowing of the already tight accessway.

“That made the project very, very difficult, because we couldn’t take any large loads up to the site, so they had to be carried in with small trucks, vans, or trailers,” says Borrmeister Architects’ Wulf Borrmeister.

In addition, for a period of three months during construction, the access road was closed for repairs between 9am and 4:30pm. In short, the project couldn’t have been more challenging, logistically.

Thankfully, the brief for the home was straightforward: the clients had sold their earthquake-damaged house in Sumner village and wanted to downsize to a home that was relaxed, captured the sea views and felt like a holiday at home.

Additionally, they had some environmentally conscious aspirations: the design was to include solar panels, water retention tanks, overhead louvres and an ultra-low emission log burner.

In keeping with their self-sustainability goals, Wulf tried to keep the materials as sustainable as possible, including using a substantial amount of the stone excavated on site for the external cladding on the basement level.

Due to the steep nature of the site, the house was designed across three levels: the basement contains the garage and storage; the ground floor houses the bedrooms and a sauna (that was recycled from their previous home); and the upper level consists of an open-plan kitchen, dining, lounge, powder room, snug and small study nook.

“The original thought was to have the living, dining and kitchen on the ground floor, but it was decided that it would be more beneficial to swap the living and bedrooms, because of the views.”

The uninterrupted views from the top floor to the north and down to the south (which clear the neighbour’s roofline), take in the ocean, beach and Port Hills. The living spaces receive all-day sun, yet Wulf says it was crucial to control the solar gain across the day.

Therefore, a lightweight warped roof—referencing the sail on a mast—follows the path of the sun and enables the living space to catch the morning light as early as possible, while controlling the amount of solar gain in the afternoon.

The shape also captures the views uphill to the council reserve behind the house. “The roof kicks up so that, when seated, you have a clear sightline to the trees on one side, while also retaining a view down to the beach on the other.”

Yet, while the upper floors were designed to capture the views and the sun, cedar sliding screens and automatic overhead louvres were put in place for sun control and to provide natural cross ventilation, without losing the connection between indoor and outdoor environments.

Consequently, a journey from the entrance to the upper level takes in the red volcanic rock of the cliff through a glass-encased, semi-cantilevered timber stair. “You almost feel like you are walking outside,” says Wulf.

Further enhancing the internal connection with the external environment, is the tree-like internal pillars supporting the warped roof structure with their branch-like trusses.

Other internal finishes reflect the client’s eco-conscious brief: the concrete floor acts as a heat sink for passive solar gain; and the textured walls and natural tiles lend a tactile and organic feel.

Since moving in, the clients have purchased an electric car and are making good use of the solar panels on the roof.

Now, with the road repairs completed, when they make the drive back from Christchurch out to their “holiday at home” they can appreciate their home from afar, carved securely into the cliff face and glowing against the red volcanic rock of Scarborough Hill.

Kitchen Design: Ingrid Geldof Design
Photography by: Sarah Rowlands Photography

2020 Architecture MasterPrize (AMP) Winner
2019 NZIA Canterbury Local Housing Architecture Award 
2019 NZIA Resene Colour Award 
2019 Trends International Design Awards (TIDA) New Zealand Architect New Home of the Year - Winner
2019 Trends International Design Awards (TIDA) International Home of the Year - Winner

Message pro
Visit website
Contact details
Hewn from Red Rock | Borrmeister Architects | ArchiPro
Seen from the street, the west elevation shows the relationship between the house and the hillside on which the house sits.
While the house appears to emerge directly from the rock, it is in fact sitting free of the cliff face, a condition of the building consent.
Double-height glazing behind the main, cantilevered, staircase shows how the house is sitting shy of the rockface behind.
A galley kitchen takes centre stage in the open-plan living area, separating the dining space from the lounge. A WC has been cleverly concealed on the other side of the cabinetry and a small snug can be seen off to the right.
Looking north from the living room, which enjoys a double-aspect and elevated views to the reserve behind the house thanks to the raked ceiling and clerestory windows.
The western deck, with sliding shutters, enjoys 180-degree views from Sumner Beach through Pegasus Bay and out to the Pacific Ocean.
Sliding shutters and automated louvres help mitigate solar gain from the afternoon sun.
The lounge leads out onto an east-facing terrace and swimming pool.
The east elevation showing the snug on the far left, main staircase in the centre and the terrace and lounge on the right.
Looking through the house towards Sumner Beach.
The north elevation. The house was designed across three levels: the basement contains the garage and storage; the ground floor houses the bedrooms and a sauna; and the upper level contains the living areas.
From its north-west corner position, the main bedroom enjoys wide-ranging views towards the Port Hills in the far distance.
As the sun sets the focus shifts from the external view to the warm and welcoming interior.
Like a beacon, the house glows at night.