Little Yellow Hut

Through having a background in architecture, I feel I could litter this essay with a number of famous and successful buildings which have truly taken my breath away. After learning that I practice architecture, numerous people have often asked “oh, so what’s your favourite building?”. So today I asked myself the same question, sitting on my couch, a whole hemisphere away, with time to ponder due to surfing the wave of unemployment. I have always known that I have admired particular buildings, not necessarily as an entire entity, but sometimes for their certain aspects.

To further my point I will share my list:

  • Snohetta’s Oslo Opera House because of the unique and ingenious form which allows people to walk around and on top of the entire building.

  • Alvaro Siza’s Portuguese National Pavilion in Oporto because of its simple form and acoustic environment which is achieved by suspending a monumental sheet of concrete between two rectangular masses.

  • Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey purely for the incredibly ornate ceiling.

  • Haven’s House by Harwell Hamilton Harris in Berkeley, for its journey as you enter the house over the walkway and the way it opens to the view of San Francisco Bay.

At this point I realised that the list could continue and not one of them was one I had a true personal connection with. Furthermore rather than ramble in architectural gibberish about a building that is only legible to architecture geeks (and useless to the people it serves), I turned my focus to home.

Call me cheesy but my favourite architectural haunt is in fact an 80 square metre bach that is perched on top of a cliff overlooking the sandbar at Mangawhai. It is the epitome of a New Zealand bach, weatherboard, zero insulation, single glazed fenestration and still on tank water. By any modern architectural standards, it is in fact a terrible piece of architecture. But to me and many of my closest friends it resonates as a place where we all ate, slept, drank, partied, bantered, sunbathed and shared each other’s company. It was the cave for winter and the chapel of summer. Never before have I enjoyed the morning liturgy of toothbrushing as I roam onto the front grass to admire a breathtaking panorama before me.

In the glorious New Zealand summer months we would begin our pilgrimage. It consisted of a two hour drive through the torturous congestion as we exited Auckland, to the back roads near Omaha enroute to Mangawhai. As soon as we hit the township, Donna Lewis’s “I Love You (Always Forever)” would hit the decks of Howie’s jellybean car and we would make it to the front gate at Eveline Street just as it faded out. The mesh gate was then chained back and the car was parked between the main house and the double garage which housed a bunk bed sleep out. Once parked we would all pile out of the car, leaving a completely empty chassis as we moved into the bach.  

The bach has a non-descript front door of standard white joinery with two panes of glass. It opens straight into the kitchen. The gulley kitchen is about 2 metres in length. The stove/oven is immediately to your left as you walk in, followed by the sink (no dishwasher here). Opposite is a small bench with cabinetry above and below. Next are the two closets of heaven, one of cooled bliss (the fridge) and the other the shrine of room temperature goodness (the pantry).

Take another step and you’re in the dining and living area. It contains a modest 6 seater dining table and a bamboo lounge suite consisting of a 3 seater couch (for small people), armchair and glass coffee table. At the end of living room are two doors and a short hallway. The door on the left leads to the master bedroom and the door on the right, the guest bedroom. At the end of the short hallway is the bathroom and laundry. The bach comes complete with elements of 80s interior detail preserved, such as the butti curved bullnose on the kitchen bench, the mottled frosted glass on the laundry and toilet windows and wonderful cork floor.

The bach faces east, directly out to the sandbar. It either basks in the sun or braves the wind and rain all day as it roosts on its cliff corner. Sometimes we do not need to turn on the television as we watch the fickle play of Mother Nature through the full height sliding doors all along the east facade.

At night, we keep the hut shut to keep out the moth population and roll out our sleeping arrangements just like a game of Tetris. During the summer days we live the sloth life on the wooden deck. Continuous beach days often ensue in the bay below and we would frequent the steps that hug the bach’s cliff to indulge in some vitamin D. Whatever excursions or non-excursions are used to fill the days, a conscious effort is always made to ensure that food is a priority. Many magnificent meals have been churned out of the tiny kitchen. We swiftly manoeuvre around each other, anticipating the moves known only by best friends to feed the forever ‘famined’ tribe.

At the end of each visit the whole bach is emptied and a full to-do-clean-up list is executed. The light bamboo furniture is swiftly transported to the deck as we mop, vacuum and dust the humble abode to pack it up for next time. Once again we pile into the jellybean, as Howie backs it out of the grassed driveway, and Fran chains the front gate.

Even though my opinion is completely biased as I promote this little yellow hut as my 'favourite’ piece of architecture; to me it exists as an insignia of New Zealand, summer and the 'good times’. I will openly admit that I am not an advocate towards preserving the nostalgic 'bach’ typology that kiwi architecture seems to love. Alternatively this bach is an example on how architecture can shape our lives and in the case of the little yellow hut, how it has helped foster lifelong friendships.