Rock Solid

Rock Solid

This spectacular hill site presented some tough challenges for Chris Fifield Building, but the dedicated team embraced the complex project to deliver a remarkable multi-award-winning home.


To be trusted with a complex architectural home like this one is a tall order, but that is precisely the challenge that Chris Fifield of Chris Fifield Building took on when he signed up to build this Richmond Hill stunner. His client, an acquaintance from the gym, was impressed with the level of craftsmanship on other projects of Chris’s and together they embarked on a build with considerable challenges.


Designed by Johnston Architects to maximise the panoramic views, the 365 square metre home is only one room deep at any point. At the rear, a gallery runs along the spine of the building where the stairwell is also housed.


The ground floor comprises the double garage, children’s bedroom, guest bedroom, bathroom and laundry. Upstairs, the split-level open plan living space encompasses the beautifully appointed kitchen, dining and lounge as well as an interconnected media room. Each of the rooms is elegantly decorated in a soft and understated palette of neutrals and greys, interspersed with timber accents; the effect is serene and relaxing.


To facilitate manoeuvring vehicles, the house is suspended over a vehicle forecourt to form a covered arrival and departure area. The design includes eaves of varying depth to shade the house from the intense midday sun while letting in the warmth in the late afternoon and evening. The walls and ceiling are well insulated, and skylights and louvre windows have been selected to aid passive ventilation. These features ensure temperature control is maintained with less requirement for additional heating or cooling throughout the seasons.

The inclusion of three-phase electricity with a dedicated single-phase supply to the garage will accommodate electric vehicles down the track. Further to this, to futureproof for easy installation of solar panels and battery storage, supply conduits have been installed between the monopitch roof 
and switchboard.

Interior:  A restful colour palette of greys and browns creates an elegant cohesive interior.

Interior: A restful colour palette of greys and browns creates an elegant cohesive interior.

With the design of the house set into the rock wall of the hillside behind, the initial stages of site preparation took close to eight months before construction could begin. With a six-metre cut-face excavation required to set the building into the hill, geotechnical, structural and civil engineers, Kirk Roberts Consulting, joined the project. Following a geotechnical survey, the immediate challenge for principal geotechnical engineer, Steven Roberts, of Kirk Roberts was to design a retaining solution. Adding to the complexity, the central spine of the building forms part of the retaining wall, meaning that the wall is an integral part of the building’s structure. This factor made performance requirements, such as keeping movement to a minimum, particularly challenging.


The design that Kirk Roberts created is a buttressed, in situ concrete retaining wall system, which is made up of vertical concrete columns, set into the cut face, to stop the wall from moving. The construction of the retaining system was new to Chris Fifield and his team, who valued the expert advice and guidance of Kirk Roberts.

Rui Li also of Kirk Roberts assessed the design and provided recommendations for structural requirements. Rui says, “With architectural builds, the challenge is how to get the structure into the building without it being visible, and it’s our challenge to find that solution.” He recommended a significant amount of steel structure and solved the issue of bracing for the open plan spaces with the use of block masonry and in situ concrete to counteract the lack of walls.

Outdoor Living:  A glass balustrade on the sheltered decking provides for uninterrupted views from Sumner Beach to as far as the Kaikōura Ranges.

Outdoor Living: A glass balustrade on the sheltered decking provides for uninterrupted views from Sumner Beach to as far as the Kaikōura Ranges.

As is often the case with ambitious architectural builds, little about this project was straightforward. The location made getting materials to the site tricky, as weight restrictions on the road limited the amount that could be trucked in at one time. The access, shared with five neighbours, also called for extra care.

Chris Fifield says the combination of all of these factors made building this home, “A massive challenge, but we stuck at it.” Chris has been in business in Christchurch for over 12 years and employs a small, tight-knit team of six skilled staff specialising in residential new builds and renovations. Initially undertaking a lot of earthquake repairs, the company is now happy to work on anything from building a deck through to large architectural homes.


The successful completion of this project sparked the company’s first foray into the Registered Master Builders House of the Year awards. The team were delighted to gain recognition with a Gold award plus the coveted Gold Reserve award in the Canterbury new home $1.5 Million - $2 Million category; putting them in the top 100 homes nationwide. The team are justifiably proud of their work on the Richmond Hill house and are looking forward to the national awards later this year.


Built as a family home, the owners are settled and enjoying the tranquil sanctuary-like comfort of this exceptional home. For Chris Fifield, that represents a job well done. In his own words, “We put a lot of time and effort into this house, the end product is amazing, and we’re very proud of it.”

03 374 6178 |

Words Anna Scaife Photography Geoff Trotter

What’s fresh in lighting?

What’s fresh in lighting?

Greens Mac 'n' Cheese

Greens Mac 'n' Cheese