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Russell, Paihia, Kerikeri

Bay of Islands, Northland

New Zealand

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Otto Suri - Swiss Registered Architect, 28696
Masters & Postgraduate Degrees in Architecture from ETH Zurich
Swiss Institute of Engineers & Architects SIA, 121605
New Zealand Institute of Architects, 19656
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment MBIE, LBP Design-3, 114262

Alteration and addition to existing house, Russell

We are from England and constrained by the immigration rules to a maximum of six months each year. We bought the house in April 2011. The pictures show the before and after for our house in Russell. Before we had a run down two bedroom house with one bathroom. After we have a four bedroom house with three bathrooms, a garage we can drive up to and a study. The design was done by Otto Suri. The main issues were decided in an intense three week period during which Otto developed a wide range of options from which we selected the one which suited us best.

We then had to return to England to leave Otto to turn the agreed outline into detailed plans and engineering drawings and then to obtain the necessary consents from the Local Government Planners. During this time we were kept closely informed with copies of the detailed plans as they developed and were able to debate and make changes as the work progressed. The site is on a headland which has been subject to land slip and the Planners were particularly demanding over the engineering support.

On our return in November 2012, the consents had been obtained and we were able, with Otto’s help, to finalise the contract with the builder for work to start after Christmas 2012.

We made it very clear both to Otto and the builder that Otto was in charge of the design and that any changes to the specification would come from Otto. Similarly Otto was in charge of the finances and I would only make payment on his approval. This clarity worked very well because in March, two months after the work started, we again returned to England.

There was one major unknown on the site when we had to leave and that was what would be found behind a retaining wall under the house. Until much of the under house had been excavated and stabilised it was not possible to make safely this discovery. The size and shape of the bathrooms and attached bedrooms depended on what was found.

Again Otto kept us closely in touch, by email and photographs, identifying necessary design changes and we felt confident in agreeing to what was required after some email and phone discussion.

When we returned in November 2013 the work on the house was virtually complete although much of the outside work remained to be done. We were delighted with what had been achieved and the way in which our wishes had been interpreted into the house. There were some serious practical problems with local sub-contractors, which had been solved without us being bothered – a real benefit of being away with a trusted architect in charge.

In summary we had an excellent high quality result from our substantial project. The design was a complicated three dimensional puzzle where until Otto became involve we had failed to find a solution.

Much of the work was carried out in our absence and we had confidence, which was fully justified, that we did not need to be on site. Costs were well controlled and we recognised, or initiated, the need for variations.

This was the first time we had used an architect for a building project. We enjoyed the interplay between our ideas and Otto’s and sometime had active debate before reaching a conclusion. This was always done with good humour. Now that we have lived in the house for a further year we have come to appreciate many of the details designed by Otto where we let him have his way without being fully convinced.

Otto also had an excellent relationship with the builder. A large rehabilitation project inevitably throws up issues, which need resolution between architect and builder. Such issues were resolved rapidly with the client’s interest being foremost.

Vincent and Hilary Watts

February 2014