Alpine Retreat – Flockhill Homestead by Warren and Mahoney
Set in the picturesque landscape that has been used as a location for the film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s fantasy novel The Chronicles of Narnia, Flockhill Homestead by Warren and Mahoney provides both retreat from and immersion in the surrounding alpine elements. The homestead, situated near Arthur’s Pass on the South Island of New Zealand, is a grand architectural reference to the site’s rich agricultural past.
The famous Flockhill High Country Sheep Station is nestled at the foothills of the Craigieburn Valley, approximately 90 minutes west of Christchurch. The area is renowned for a range of powdery ski slopes and the high country Lake Pearson that mirrors Sugarloaf Mountain in perfect symmetry, as seen from the vista that the new accommodation facility, Flockhill Homestead, frames. Such is the scenery and vibrating energy of this region that the Dalai Lama once called it ‘the spiritual centre of the universe’.
Alone and elevated on 14,500 hectares of high country, Flockhill Homestead has had its story told everywhere from the campfire to the silver screen. Warren and Mahoney writes a new chapter worthy of this rich history.
The location has quite a resumé, so when it came to designing a homestead that was every bit as majestic as its surroundings, the client enlisted the expertise of international architecture and interior design studio Warren and Mahoney. With offices in Australia and New Zealand, Warren and Mahoney has forged a reputation for amplifying identity and designing spaces that speak to the natural world, experience which the studio drew upon to realise this ambitious vision at Arthur’s Pass.
Flockhill Homestead is entirely consumed by the landscape, with the scale and majesty of the nearby mountains establishing the homestead as a truly special accommodation experience. The snow-capped peaks may steal the show, but the most distinctive element surrounding Flockhill Station is the limestone rock formations. The name ‘Flockhill’ is in direct reference to the rocks, as from a distance they resemble flocks of sheep. All across the vast property limestone formations jut and extrude, and hundreds of years ago the rock overhangs were used for shelter by the Māori tribe Ngāi Tahu, who would make camp here and gather food en route to the west coast. “The limestone rock formations inform the design – in plan, thick concrete walls are aligned on the view and separate the various spaces,” Warren and Mahoney Principal Jonathan Coote remarks. “The walls are used as a grounding device and add mass and weight to the outcome. In terms of colouration, the concrete walls are cast in slim layers and are aligned in tone and texture to the limestone formations.”
Being steeped in a history of habitation and refuge was an influencing fac-tor in the architectural form of Flockhill Homestead. Although presented as a luxury homestead, the building is also utilitarian in its reference to the agricultural architecture of the region. A barn-like pitched roof soars above heavier masonry elements that are materially closer to the abundance of surrounding geological forms, further enhancing the experience of the site. This hardy weight-to-base approach of Warren and Mahoney is gently offset by the lattice-timber roof floating above. The material contrast is important in establishing a sense of weightlessness within the building. “We believe that the architectural response to being in such an overpowering and powerful landscape is best achieved by taking a reductive approach,” says Jonathan. “The focus is on the simplicity of the response. The minimal detailing focuses every dwelling in the space to the landscape beyond. In taking this approach, the building retains echoes of the history of the rural built form but isn’t slavishly tied to that historical reference. The restrained approach heightens connection to your senses and the whenua [land].”
The material palette functions similarly and is intentionally restrained to negate any distraction from the view. Tinted concrete is cast in thin layers, and non-reflective glazing, wide-tray metal roofing, limestone flooring and native timbers are used unison to amplify the spectacular outlook. “The stripped-back palette of natural materials aligns with the desire to bring visitors in close connection with the landscape, and their own sensory experience of it,” says Jonathan.
Flockhill Homestead is embedded in the rocky contour and guests receive continuous connection to the uninterrupted alpine views thanks to the linear positioning of all its rooms.
The openness of the structure connects guests to the external landscape whilst establishing material experiences and warmth internally. The line between external and internal is deliberately blurred and encourages fluid use of the home. Flockhill Homestead is embedded in the rocky contour and guests receive continuous connection to the uninterrupted alpine views thanks to the linear positioning of all its rooms. A terrace stretches the full length of the building and is protected by a 3.5-metre cantilevered roof – an important design consideration for the alpine environment where shelter is required from both the summer sun and the winter snow. The same consideration was made with the spa pool and adjacent terrace that features a conversation pit. Even in the depths of winter, guests can enjoy the facilities, hunkering in up to their necks.
Designing for the alpine environment presents a number of unique challenges. The huge swings in temperature and strong winds are obvious weather events in New Zealand, and Warren and Mahoney countered these within the building fabric and through extensive WUFI testing, a system regarding vapour diffusion and moisture transiency in building materials. New Zealand’s seismicity is another factor that needed to be considered. “In New Zealand, our tectonic plates are active,” notes Jonathan, “and even more so in the mountains. Allowing for movement in the structural and building envelope required significant thought and was a challenge the engineers and architectural team solved with the effortless-looking, column-free leading edge of the continuous verandah.”
Being flanked by mountains in the middle of nowhere is surely enough reason to travel to Flockhill Homestead. Why would anyone want to leave? But the homestead speaks to adventure seekers as much as those wanting a quiet slice of weekend heaven. Lake Pearson fills the frame, and a meandering stream nearby is suitable for fishing whilst hunting and a host of other activities can also be arranged for guests. The area is located in close proximity to the Waipara wine region and, as a whole, is laden with experiential tourism and recreation options.
Flockhill Homestead was executed by Warren and Mahoney with such restrained precision that its dramatic form is matched only by the majestic scenery before it. Influenced by previous inhabitation of the property, the homestead is an exciting luxury accommodation that has offerings for both wild and tame spirits. Alone and elevated on 14,500 hectares of high country, Flockhill Homestead has had its story told everywhere from the campfire to the silver screen. Warren and Mahoney writes a new chapter worthy of this rich history.