Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Barr House, by Claude Megson (1972)


Built in Auckland’s Meadowbank back in 1972, the Barr House – on a small suburban site embracing a bush reserve – is described by Megson biographer Giles Reid as one of the finest spaces he has ever been in. Yet, astonishingly, up until now it has been all but unpublished.

If there is a reason for this omission [says Reid], it is not due to the building’s lack of importance. The Barr House represents a huge advance in [Megson’s] ability to conceive and manipulate space. Of all [Megson’s houses discussed in Reid’s monograph], its spaces and forms are by far the most memorable.

The design of the house, as Megson virtually described it to an interviewer in the year of its birth, “takes its shape from the relation to the bush and the fan-shaped section.” 


The clients approached the School of Architecture in 1971 asking for the best architect they knew. The name they kept hearing was Claude Megson.

The client wanted a house that would be, as it were, a work of art [recounts Megson’s 1971 interviewer Winifred Wilson]. He wanted something good, yet out of the ordinary, and it was to be a  reasonably quiet house in which to live. The site, at the end of a cul-de-sac, overlooks the bush basin . . .
    Colours, too, relate to the bush background. Basically, the house … built along the edge of this bush, forms a crescent around a large walled entry court.
    From here one goes up to the bedrooms or down to the living quarters. It [is clad] in cedar boards … [originally] oiled a yellow brown, with solid piers in reinforced brickwork of a rich warm brown. The motor court and garden walls are also done in this warm brick work.


    Inside, the brick walls are left exposed and the timber walls are lined with the same cedar boards … The high ceilings on the first floor are white plaster plainted white. The timber floors are covered in shag pile buff carpet and the whole house has a warm mellow glow of honey gold.

Having just spent a few days there, I can attest to the ingenious treatment of space Reid describes, powerfully assisted by the rhombic geometry suggested by the site.


As with the hexagonal design module used so deftly by Frank Lloyd Wright in his Hannah House, for example, the rhombic geometry opens up the house and gives a much greater feeling of freedom—movement systems and vision for example being on different paths, a feeling enhanced by the shafts of space shooting “laser like” from one side of the house to another.

Standing in the living room [for example, writes Reid,] one can see past the entry, across the stairs, just missing the back of the kitchen, through the family space and then breakfast area and out to the terraces beyond. Every plane seems to fold away from this invisible line with only moments to spare.

It is a wonderful house to visit—and still owned by the owners who originally commissioned it back in 1971; now reluctantly ready to sell after enjoying half a lifetime inhabiting the house.


They have nothing but praise for the house and the man who designed it for them. They would change nothing they say, and from the time the house came in under budget (costing less per square foot than state houses did at the time, reports the owner) to now when old age means they finally have to leave, they say they have loved every moment of living there.


[Photos by Barfoots, courtesy Philip Oldham. Plans from Building Progress magazine, 1972. Cross-posted at the Claude Megson blog]

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