Rue Michelet and Cote de l'Amiral Halsey, Orphelinat, Noumea, New Caledonia, 1968–69
Brothers Louis and Jean Nawa were significant developers of affordable housing in New Caledonia during the 1960s and 1970s. Around 1968, both employed Snelling to design their family houses. The Louis Nawa mansion was developed on a steep corner site in a new suburb overlooking Noumea’s Baie de l’Orphelinat.
Instead of exploiting its water views to the south, the L-shaped, flat-roofed building was oriented inwards to several tiled courtyards and a landscaped lawn. (In terms of space planning, this inverted his “four courters” strategy which Snelling interpreted from Richard Neutra for his first built work, the Hay house at St Ives.) The main façade, facing south over Rue Michelet, was distinguished by a monumental wall veneered with stone tiles in a crazy pattern; this device enhanced security for the residence and clarified that the architecture of the main level was not responding to the natural slope of the site.
In response to the steep site, Snelling inserted a garage in the lowest (southeast) corner of the site, and installed a copper and cedar-roofed staircase to the front door and circular steel stairs to one of the courtyards. In Snelling’s plan, all the main spaces flowed indoors and outdoors across the upper level. To illuminate the main rooms, three triangular rooflights were installed to face west, south, and north, and two square cavities were punched in the roof to accommodate palm trees projecting above and to provide further light and outlooks for their adjacent rooms.
Internally, the front door opened to a central hallway with a split level living/dining room on the left and a substantial study on the right. Behind these formal reception rooms were a large kitchen, the master bedroom suite, and a family area. Another floor contained two bedroom suites, a staff room, laundry, linen cupboard, clothes drying area, sewing room, and storage. Various terracotta-coloured marble and patterned floor tiles were selected by the Nawas (not to Snelling’s taste) for interior floors and courtyard paving.
—Balmforth, Richard. Site photographs, ca. 2003.
—Patrick Lafleur (second owner). Personal communications and site visit, ca. 2003.