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Sanctuary escape

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Nature and nurture meet to create a place of relaxation and conversation in Christchurch.

It looks harmless enough, a rock sitting languidly at the foot of a spa pool. But before it came to be here in this Lyttelton backyard, it caused a fair bit of ruckus. It turns out there is no easy way to move a 1.3-tonne rock – especially on the signature narrow streets of Christchurch’s harbour town.
“The crane was pretty maxed out – it kept screaming, ‘Overloaded, overloaded!’” says landscaper and director of Sculptural Landscapes Jon Russell. “Then we had to manpower it across to the other side – it took a bit of effort.”
It feels like a bit of an understatement – it took four of his team to move it “inch by inch” by putting it on timbers.
But it was well worth the effort. Not only does the garden evoke the feelings of the tranquillity and rustic earthiness of the West Coast, but it won Jon and his team a gold medal at the recent Landscapes of Distinction Awards.
The landscape architect behind the project, Land Arch’s Dan Rivers, said it was a well-deserved win for Sculptural Landscapes.

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Landscape architect Dan Rivers prefers a circular-shaped spa pool due to its “pure” shape.

“Total respect to these guys – often we’ll say if you get 80 per cent there with the design vision you are doing really well. So it is really nice when the space feels like you thought it would,” he says.
The space was a grassed area with a trampoline, but it had a Zen garden heart, and the rock played a large part in that, Dan says. “It is like it has landed out of the sky, like islands – just like in a raked Zen garden area,” he says.
He designed it so the rock didn’t feel like it was placed, but rather that the concrete washed up against it.
As the area is long and linear, Dan used circles to break it up. You can see it woven through the design, from the shape of the spa pool and its concrete foundation to the round tables made of repurposed kwila decking.
Dan has experience with spas and hot pools – he designed the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools and the Ōpuke Thermal Pools and Spa in Methven, and his preference is for the “pure” circular spa pool shape (rather than a square shape) as it evokes the feeling of a European hot tub.
The use of repurposed materials by Jon and his team has cemented the identity of this outdoor space. Repurposed coat hooks (that those of a certain age will remember in school cloakrooms) are where towels can hang, and the tables and shelves made from the kwila decking invite in a glass or two of bubbles. The outdoor shower, which is plumbed to include hot water, was created from a piece of the old Lyttelton wharf the client had.
It looks like that perfect place you dream about stumbling upon in the depths of the wilderness, where there is a hot pool and a place to fully surrender to nature. But instead, it is the perfect getaway in a Lyttelton backyard.

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