It would be fair to say a grand design, in Christchurch terms, would be seen as a large home or dwelling that exceeds 400 square metres in size, for example, one that is easily bigger than the current standard home.
The latter has been catching up over the past 50 years.
However, a house of 400 square metres or more today would be perceived by most people to be generously scaled and within the reach of only a privileged few. They would also be likely to consider such a home to provide well above their general needs.
Some smaller houses offering outstanding features can also be seen as grand designs.
But large homes, though perhaps not a great number of them, have defined grand designs over many centuries.
The best are notable for their architecture, their setting or context and the history of their inhabitants. We can think of historic castles and palaces and in more recent times of country houses and occasional grand city houses.
In New Zealand, examples would be Larnach Castle, many old rural homesteads and a sprinkling of large suburban homes. Many of the latter are neo-Georgian in architectural style, this still being regarded by many as a stylistic pinnacle.
Grand designs in a rural context
While, historically, most grand designs have been built on generous plots of land and in rural areas, numerous have been constructed on small but prominent sites, offering the occupants and the viewer outstanding views and visibility.
In Canterbury most are situated in rural or hillside areas. Examples of more physically prominent homes can be seen on the Port Hills, around the Lyttelton Harbour inlet and around Banks Peninsula, including Akaroa.
In more recent times, a number have been built around the edge of the city’s urban area, mostly on rural residential lots.
The pattern here has been to build along traditional lines, for example in neo-Georgian style complete with sufficient land to give the impression of a traditional rural country estate, even if the land holding might be just two-five ha, not 200-500 ha or more in scale.
It is axiomatic that the person with the wherewithal to build a large home is likely to have the resources to afford a reasonably generous parcel of land or a highly scenic plot offering landscape character and views. This person is unlikely to want to build an expensive home on a restrictive or unattractive piece of land.
Grand designs in an urban context
Within the city boundaries, the conditions for building a large and expensive home remain much the same.
These include a reasonably generous parcel of land, some existing and appealing natural features such as water, large trees and most likely homes nearby of similar character – which generally point to the inner older-residential suburbs like Fendalton, and to the Port Hills from Scarborough around to Tai Tapu.
A drive around key areas of the city and the immediate hinterland indicates a massive number of new dwellings have been or are currently being constructed. Whereas EQC predicted soon after the 2010/11 earthquakes in the order of 3,000 – 4,000 homes would need to be repaired or rebuilt, it seems 30-40,000 might be closer to the mark, with construction currently under way in what feels like every street in Fendalton. In this latter area there is the occasional grand design still emerging.
However, the majority are comfortable looking new homes, mostly in the 200-400 square metre size range. Only a few larger than this are evident on key streets. Most of the new builds are also single or double storey. Few projects are multi-level.
Blocks of large apartments that have been proposed and marketed recently, appear to have failed to attract new buyers and have generally been withdrawn. Reasons for this include nervousness about further earthquakes, insurance complications and financing.
The future of grand designs in Canterbury
It would be safe to say that grand designs are in the minority and are not impacting the local property market to any measurable extent, thus preserving the prestige of the grand designs that do exist.
Our practice is involved in a range of residential projects. Less than 10 percent of these however, would be considered to be in the grand design range. Most are in good-quality homes in the 200- 400 square metre range and there is an increasing range of clients moving into the sub-200 square metre range in both townhouse and stand-alone projects.
It is relatively rare for the client to ask for a contemporary style of home at this level in the market. The interior fit out is likely to be in traditional style as well.
Buying and selling grand designs is limited to a small section of the market and while the entry level has risen a little in recent years, most households need to limit their purchase to suit their income level. There is also a discernible trend towards downsizing and interest in more urban living.
Article and images provided by David Sheppard of Sheppard & Rout Architects.