1940-60s architect-designed homes: layout and form

Architects led innovation in New Zealand house style, layout and materials during the 1960s.

Architect designed homes of the 1950s and 1960s incorporated ideas from overseas but increasingly moved towards a distinctly New Zealand style. That style broke from the traditional houses of the past, often incorporated modernist concepts, and pushed the boundaries of domestic building.

There was an integrated approach to the design, and considerable innovation in layout, structure and materials.

Architect-designed houses were smaller than those built today – typically around 1,200–1,300 square feet (110–120 m2).

Stud heights were set at 8’ (2.4 m), but to maintain a sense of interior spaciousness these were occasionally offset by raked ceilings that followed the slope of the roof.


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Open plan living

Layout varied, but open plan interiors were typical. These were a complete change from the compartmentalised layout of state and private housing of the 1940s and 1950s.

The concept of open plan living aimed to better respond to family life. ‘Public’ areas were separated only by partitions or built-in fittings, rather than full height walls.

The open plan interiors and ample built-in storage meant that space was used effectively in spite of the relatively small sizes.

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The layout and orientation generally aimed to take advantage of solar gain rather than street frontage.

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In keeping with a more open plan layout, architect-designed houses often had multiple direct access points to the outdoors.

Often they had no conventional ‘front’ door. Where a front entrance was retained, it was less formal than in earlier eras.

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Split level

On sloping sites, a split-level floor plan started to appear from the late 1960s. This was suited to the use of concrete slabs-on-ground. By excavating the site to create a series of steps, platforms for the different levels were easily and cheaply created.

A split-level interior suited the open plan concept, as different areas of the house could be separated without the need for divisions or partitions.

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Exterior features

Many architect-designed houses featured outdoor spaces opening off living areas and bedrooms with extensive use of timber decks or concrete terraces. Greater consideration was given to taking advantage of views, sun, or preserving privacy.

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A low roof pitch (often monopitch) was typical. Skillion roof construction was often used. Eave width varied, from wide overhangs to none at all. The lower pitch roof often resulted in a building form that was more cubic than in earlier periods.

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Architect-designed houses typically featured larger areas of glazing, often floor to ceiling. Typically, windows were designed to fit between studs. Where opening sashes were not provided, the glazing was sometimes fixed directly into the frame and sometimes even directly into the rebated stud.

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New materials and construction methods

From the late 1960s, architects experimented with new construction methods such as timber post and beam construction and reinforced concrete block construction.

Also beginning to be used were sarked timber ceilings; dark-stained, oiled timber finishes; external timber bracing; board and batten cladding; clerestory and porthole windows; and recycled brick.

A greater range of external claddings was used, such as horizontal bevel-back weatherboards combined with vertical timber boards.