Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Context, Contours and the Opportunity

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posted on 2023-09-25, 07:24 authored by Sophie Sangster

In 1948, architectural students designed and built a demonstration house. This was a critique of many New Zealand houses that inadequately provided for the needs of their occupants and mostly destroyed rather than added to their surroundings. In 2020, building consent data from BCI New Zealand report that the greatest contributors to building stock every year are Franchise Homes. Such homes continue to echo the same concerns that were raised 38 years ago. This is that, our built environment largely consists of a more readily available, cheap housing response that does little to embrace the idiosyncrasies of site.

While Franchise Homes do respond to market demand, they remain a critical platform for discussion here. These homes are the architectural outcomes of today, not because they were designed by architects, but because they are our built environment and our new heritage buildings. Together these homes form our lasting impressions of a place. In doing so they have become critical to the life of our built environment and the ecosystems which sustain it. There is an opportunity for architecture and its practices to provide alternatives to how Aotearoa housing might more appropriately respond to site. Such an approach would reflect the idiosyncrasies of site, as opposed to the influence of market demand. This offers a house design that aims to coexist with site rather than stand alone as an isolated object in place.

This research examines this problem and opportunity, and aims to understand assumptions we make about home, environment, and site. In coming to understand these assumptions we can reflect how buildings might respond and move towards better practice as opposed to business as usual.

Through creative practice, this thesis advocates for an ethical understanding of site and building responsiveness. Rather than utilising a single approach, it presents examples of how this ethical understanding can be found in an application of ‘Rigid and Soft’ architecture principles. This application is influenced by situational knowledge and site contours. The conclusions discover architecture in between a universal system and something more specific - a more site-responsive home.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280104 Expanding knowledge in built environment and design

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

2 Strategic basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Southecombe , Mark