Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Last Resort: Building Big Architecture in Big Landscapes

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posted on 2021-11-13, 19:11 authored by Suisted, Cameron

Accommodating large groups of people typically requires large architecture. However, in precious landscapes, such as National Parks, large architectural interventions are often opposed on the grounds of an aesthetic cost to the landscape. Most of the building activity that has attracted this opposition detracts from the natural environment by both dominating the landscape and being indifferent to it. In attempts to mitigate aesthetic damage, other buildings are composed in such a way that is ‘sympathetic’ with the landscape. Employing strategies of fragmentation, dispersion, miniaturization, and camouflage, the ideal of these approaches is an invisible building. But because no building is invisible, this is an unproductive direction for the discipline. The high-end resort typology would require a relatively large footprint and would suffer the same critique as the approaches noted above. What strategies do architects need to take to develop large buildings in the landscape that are neither invisible nor an aesthetic expense? And, in the pursuit of large architectural interventions, how can these operations enhance the qualities of the landscape, such that the landscape is made more intelligible, more spectacular, more powerful or more dramatic?  Forming the first section of this thesis, a proposed high-end resort development at Waikaremoana critically explores formal solutions that enhance the Urewera landscape. Employing a research through design methodology, a critical analysis of both problematic and exemplary precedents has unearthed a range of formal strategies that enhance and detract from the landscape respectively. A ‘before and after’ comparison technique has been employed throughout this analysis - and the design process - to determine whether the interventions strengthen or weaken the landscape. In response to the densely forested site, the scheme employs cutting as a general formal gesture - generating both an ecological and cultural cross section through the site, while providing pedestrian access from road to lake. Developed through an intuitive design process, the scheme has tested the architectural possibilities of occupying a cut and how such an intervention may enhance the dramatic qualities of the landscape.  Highlighting the intellectual implications of the issues raised throughout the design process, a written argument forms the second section of this thesis. This proposition looks to the cutting formal traditions of land-art, particularly of the 1960s-70s, for insight into architectural forms that enhance the landscape. Reading the cut as “not landscape” and “not architecture,” Rosalind Krauss’s (1979) “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” provides a starting platform for this inquiry. Several overlooked cutting interventions within Te Urewera build on this knowledge, rethinking various aspects of the cut and how it can operate to enhance the landscape. Providing connectivity, security and a place for confrontation, a cutting formal strategy offers opportunities to enhance both architecture and the landscape.


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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 Type Of Activity code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Kebbell, Sam