Hillside Habitat

In a city environment the architecture of the New Zealand countryside has been created in a pair of inspiring, compact Wellington homes – the White House and its companion the Black House.

On a steep, bush-clad hillside in Aro Valley the two houses are “a bit like implement sheds”, says architect Geoff Fletcher, of Geoff Fletcher Architects “In other words incredibly simple constructions”. 

Their execution was a little more difficult.

When the land was purchased by an overseas-based relative of Geoff’s, the site seemed almost unbuildable with no easy access and a steeply pitched slope. 

The project was an exercise in simplicity and cost effective building techniques on a very tricky site, says Geoff. “It was indeed difficult but the sought after result was achieved and the learning curve on this build is probably the greatest satisfaction for us.”

Living overseas but wanting a Pied a terre in Wellington, the site owner agreed the design of the White House while architect Geoff bought the Black House from his relative meaning a “dual build” would be the most effective way of achieving the desired result. 

Excavation for the build was all by hand.  To access the two sites nearly all the steps had to be built to enable materials and all components of the build to be safely delivered to site.  Both houses comprised largely a hand assembly of pre-fabricated parts, large components being lowered down the hill on timber runners with ropes.

Geoff became the main contractor and did much of the running around required which significantly reduced costs. When seen from a distance the pair of houses seem like Yin and Yang.

Up Construction (Tom Woodham) created the sub-structure for the pair of houses and made the pre-fabricated floors for both houses.  Haarlem Build (Nick Robbers) built the Black House from the floor up. The White House was built from the floor up by John Verstappen, a friend of Geoff and a talented builder and an architect himself. John’s input on detail was invaluable.  He built the super-structure of the house using 150mm steel framing: with no flashings where the metal is bent around the corners and the corrugate profile is meticulously replicated with scalloping where the walls and the ceiling meet.

The lower White House is clad in Colorsteel®. It’s a bush retreat with a lot less light being captured so the design was intended to reflect the light around.  It is clad both inside and out in Colorsteel®, a feature which appears simple, sleek and effective but was complex to construct for builder John Verstappen.

Says Geoff: “The form of the White House is also unusual with a lofty, monopitch roof matching the angle of the site at 38 degrees. Skylights inject light down into the double height space and an interior layout provides two bedrooms and all other necessary elements packed tightly into just 44 square metres.

“The floor is laid with a hardy, pale strandboard and at the centre of the home the bathroom is housed within a plywood box with the kitchen running along the edge and doubling as a hallway”.

Up the slope the Black House has wide spanning views across the harbour and towards the city. At 58 square metres the compact design features a clever floor plan allowing for kitchen, living and dining to be oriented to the view which is framed by sections of floor-to-ceiling windows.  The three bedrooms are set back against the hillside for privacy. This house has exterior cladding in Colorsteel® Ebony as it had almost too much light and Geoff wanted it to “disappear” into the bush. Black is the predominant colour inside with black interior walls and furnishings and the ceiling also clad in Colorsteel® Ebony using a Steel & Tube medium rib profile.

The expansive use of corrugate was obvious to Geoff when applying the requirement for simplicity and cost effectiveness.

“I’ve always loved corrugate and it goes beautifully with the architecture of the countryside – like it’s almost done by accident.  Corrugate goes with that look – especially vertical corrugate.  You look at farm buildings all around New Zealand and there’s still a lot around.  They’re beautiful because they are so simple”.

Geoff Fletcher Architects 

Geoff Fletcher Architects (GFA) deliver affordable architecture to private, commercial and public clients. A highly experienced team provides innovative designs which lead to time, cost and energy efficient results.

Since the early 2000s, GFA have been working in close partnership with favoured contracting teams to achieve these outcomes.  The firm specialize in a wide range of projects including solutions for steep hillsides and bespoke beach houses.  In addition to mainstream practice we engage in architectural research, being particularly interested in pre-fabrication and technologies which enable more efficient ways to produce architecture.

GFA are NZIA national award winning architects and have won architectural competitions. Alongside Geoff on design and documentation the team is Allan Clayton, Joe McEwan and Yasan De Silva.


Haarlembuild Raumati
Nick Robbers
Up Construction Napier
Tom Woodham

Roof Manufacturer
Steel & Tube

Black House Colorsteel Endura Ebony ST7 (ceiling and external cladding)
Custom Orb external walls
White House Colorsteel Endura Cloud Custom Orb – ceiling and walls internally and for the exterior roof and walls

Roofing Contractor
Bullock Roofing