1 JCA Russells Cabins Sarah Rowlands Photography

Russell's Cabins


Mike Callaghan / Johnstone Callaghan Architects

7. New Zealand specialty timber award

Russell’s Cabins are a trio of 10m2 cabins located in North Canterbury on a sloping site with an elevated outlook across the Omihi Valley and neighbouring wineries. There was a strong desire for the cabins to be cost effective, honest, and reference traditional farm buildings and ‘DOC’ huts.

Materials were carefully selected for the project; the external cladding had to sit within the bush surround, naturally patina and require minor maintenance. Both New Zealand (NZ) Macrocarpa and Eucalyptus were sourced from a local Amberley based timber merchant less than a 15 minute drive from the site. Architectural details, including concealed ventilation shutters, a clerestory glazing appearing frameless internally, and simple internal joinery elements (shelves, bench seat) constructed from laminated Eucalyptus, elevate the quality of the cabins.

Southland grown Macrocarpa, in a traditional bevel back weatherboard profile, was selected for its ability to be installed uncoated, with the clients welcoming the natural silvering of the timber. Aluminium trims mitre the external corners allowing for timber movement and frame window and door openings.

Solid 20mm Eucalyptus timber from plantations in North Canterbury and West Coast, were selected to ‘wrap’ the interiors – floor, wall and roof linings. The t&g boards were mitred into window and door reveals, butt jointed at wall and ceiling junctions and a 20mm aluminium skirting trim allowed for vertical movement of the boards. The Eucalyptus is finished with Danish Oil sourced from local Christchurch based Natural Paint Company, accentuating the honey tones of the timber.

While not NZ grown, salvaged Tasmanian Blackwood sourced from damaged Lyttelton Wharfs following the Canterbury Earthquakes was used for external decking. With historical defects, nail holes and weathering complementing the Macrocarpa cladding and adding to the overall sense of place, permanence, and the recessive nature of the cabins.

New Zealand timber was selected for the structure and external/ internal wall linings so the cabins could be constructed entirely by craftsman builder Clive Barrington in his Christchurch workshop. Early and consistent engagement with the contractor allowed for the design and details to be tested, refined and built in a collaborative way. The contractor was able to build all three cabins simultaneously in their large workshop, building inside-out without exposure to weather.

The cabins were then transported to site and lifted onto 6 awaiting piles per cabin. The pre-fabrication was a cost-efficient solution and allowed Clive the freedom to continue building the cabins in his ‘spare time’ whilst running his high-end architectural building company. The cabins became a hobby for Clive, and a labour of love for the project team.

The cabins portray how simple and traditional building techniques, claddings and forms can be cleverly articulated to an architectural level. The focus on ‘local’ with NZ grown timbers, all from the South Island, added to the richness of the project, celebrating the natural properties and characteristics of each timber.

The clients operate the Cabins as high end off grid accommodation, complemented by regenerative landscaping and amenities including an outdoor bath, shower in the trees and kitchenette.