Jesse Ewart

Lake Tekapo Cabins

AAA Visionary Awards Finalist
Auckland Architecture Association


collaborated with Jason Tan and Tyler Harlen

Nestled in the Mackenzie Basin on the edge of the idyllic Lake Takapō - this project imagines a collection of observatory cabins and visitor house, as lens for observing and isolating the southern phenomenon of the Aurora Australis. Situated within the spatial territory of the dark sky reserve, recognised as the largest in the world - vast lunar skies encompassing the Aoraki-Mt Cook national park and the settlements of Lake Takapō, Twizel and Mt Cook.

The picturesque aesthetic of the basin landscape, evokes perceptions of dramatic and sparse settlements - a sensitivity to conservation awareness for both land and sky. This work questions the local conditions towards possibilities of alternative architectural typologies distilled of unique territorial conditions and qualities, within thresholds of architecture onto landscape.

The cabins operate as a series of abodes for experiencing the temporal events of the southern lights and preserved Takapō dark night-sky. Generating an array of alluring objects distilled of context, through formative operations and authentic materiality of the locale. Formally composed as a figural scalloped roof-line, to reveal particular apertures aligned for observation towards the peripherals and sky. Affecting the internal layout of the sleeping compartments on the mezzanine level and the shared living area, bathroom and kitchen facilities below. Occupants rest as they are immersed within a sublime experience of the framed twilight, constantly shifting the spatial conditions of the secluded spaces.

The visitor house (manuhiri wharenui) forms the collective building of the site - augmenting the structural tectonics of the elemental gable form and courtyard ring. Inherently, a building intertwining through subtle qualities that reflect the dramatic landscape and climatic conditions, operating as an oculus vessel between earth and sky - with different apertures at various scalar for recording lunar patterns and temporal moments. The enclosure within the courtyard micro-landscape provides shelter and a sense of internalised introversion. The building materiality, tectonic and gable; form gestures from the Māori wharenui towards a contemporary reinterpretation of land-form architecture, that embeds within the earth’s undulating surface.