Intersection of landscape and interior

Image of Pa from Elsdon Best

Image of Pa from Elsdon Best

One way to look at pa is by concentrating on the use of the land to form architectural spaces. Amanda Yates’ paper discusses the various ways that the land was terraced, recessed, and indented when forming pa, and describes a translation of these methods into several buildings she has recently designed and built.

To her, ‘monumental pa landscapes’ have not generally been considered architecturally because they are viewed primarily as interior space or landscape works. By identifying and applying the techniques of carving the land, Yates sees herself as working ‘in-between’ the disciplines of architecture, interior design, and landscaping, re-thinking current spatial paradigms and design practices to make ‘landscape spaces or exterior interiors’.

Two buildings are provided as examples of the application of these techniques – the Step House and Continuum House. One dips below ground in places, rises up to be level with it in others. The other folds down with the slope of the land. Both utilise a continuous plane of ground concrete which not only invokes the idea of incision through its folds, but also through the process of exposing the aggregate (‘cutting back the upper layer’). In one the fireplace and hearth are recessed into the floor plane, and in both this floor plane rises up to form the kitchen bench.

Rua (pits in the ground used for storage, a common pa element) are referenced in both houses. A storage area in the Step House is dug out from the ground, creating an earthen vessel in which to hold garden equipment and the laundry. In the Continuum house pantries that pull out from the bench (which is formed from the extension of the concrete ground plane) reference ruakai, the pits used specifically for storing food.

This is a domestication of the language of pa. I don’t mean in the sense of having been applied to the setting of a home, but that all the difficulties of what pa represented have been removed, tamed. The poetic references remain and have been translated quite wonderfully in places. But when divorced from the intentions of the incisions into, and manipulations of, the land, the techniques lose part of their power.

From the descriptions provided, Yates does indeed seem to have achieved the blurring of interior and exterior and thereby an exploration of differing spatial views between cultures. But is this enough in itself? Justine Clark and Paul Walker have noted that in contrast to the Australian architect’s wish to hover over the land, the New Zealand architect’s wish is to shape it – isn’t the desire to create ‘monumental interiors’ a part of this? Abstracting the manipulation of land to create space from the many other architectural interpretations of pa can be seen as adding an indigenous angle to what is a common practice in New Zealand architecture. Or perhaps it is best viewed as a case of extending common practice – shaping the land for most architectural practice in New Zealand is about clearing space for a dwelling, not defining interior space.

Image of Rua as Part of Pa Defences from Elsdon Best

Amanda Yates, On Whenua, Landscape and Monumental Interiors, pp.103-113 in IDEA (Interior Design/Interior Architecture Educators Association Journal, 2006, see here.

Justine Clark and Paul Walker, “Making a Difference: New Zealand Houses at the Beginning of the 21st Century”, pp.60-67 in Geoffrey London (ed), Houses for the 21st Century, Pesaro Publishing, Sydney, Australia, 2003.

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