South Africans think they can show us a thing or two about bach living? What gives?
Lance and Nicky Herbst are South African-trained architects who moved to New Zealand about 15 years ago. Ever since then, they’ve been teaching their professional peers new things about a building type local architects thought they knew by heart: the Kiwi bach. The Herbsts come from a masonry building tradition. Timber construction was rather new to them, but they have taken to wood work with the zeal of converts.
On Great Barrier Island the Herbsts have designed a series of award-winning baches that capture the essence of traditional New Zealand beach buildings, even if, in their planning and careful assembly, the structures are greatly evolved versions of the old, ad-hoc bach.
In their beach houses on Great Barrier, the Herbsts have put their efforts into architecture, not amenity. They can be formidably purist in their approach to the New Zealand beach experience – their designs encourage their clients to encounter the elements – but this is because they are definite about the purpose of a holiday dwelling in a remote location. At the beach you get away from it all; you don’t take it all with you.
The small structure called the Wetland Folly is a covered shelter serving a bach on Great Barrier Island. In a way it’s a bach for a bach – a reduced version of an already reductive type. The Wetland Folly is a whimsical and even lighter-weight version of the elegant beach buildings the Herbsts have been designing on Great Barrier for more than a decade. An expression of delight, a folly is also a creation of whimsy. The type does not follow the rules. This particular folly is knowingly perverse; it’s a beach building – the term is used loosely – that looks away from the shore, focusing instead on the tree-obscured prospect of a wetland.
The folly, which was conceived of as a viewing platform similar to a bird-watching hide, touches its 15 square metre site so lightly as to leave scarcely any footprint. A simple, fully exposed timber frame provides the structural skeleton. A layer of rough manuka sticks line the interior, which houses the long bench used for summer meals. A cooking area, with an open fire and a gas barbeque, is sited at the rear of the folly.
The Auckland Architecture Awards jury gave the Wetland Folly an award in the small projects category, describing it as “a delightful and direct building that is a joyous celebration of the holiday retreat atmosphere.”
There’s a physicality about Herbst baches. The buildings require their inhabitants to get up and do things – move shutters, open and close windows, take an outdoor shower, lug the food to an outside cooking area. And why not? For most of the year, most of us are estranged from physical activity. Machines do the moving for us. Bach life, as interpreted by the Herbsts, is an exercise in self-sufficiency, and an antidote to excess. If only we could pursue the sustainability of the summer encampment all year round.
By John Walsh