Surf Carparchitecture

HERO Sam Julian
Surf Carparchitecture's scalable tectonic language compels radical speculation

This thesis explores the relationship between surf culture and transient inhabitation by interpreting the surf pilgrimage as an established domestic lifestyle. In positioning itself as the progressive evolution of current surf culture, this thesis asks, how can architecture transform the archetypal surf trip from a temporary past-time to a permanent way of life?

Transient living and surf culture have previously received little attention in Western architectural discourse. Therefore, it felt critical and natural to include an analysis of Indigenous Hawaiian surfing history to convey and celebrate the origins of surfing as a practice and how closely intertwined it remains with indigenous values despite its global uptake. Further, an analysis of surf film is included to highlight the transformation of surfing as a stand-alone practice into the contemporary surf pilgrimage — whereby the entire journey holds value. Fieldwork in the form of the author’s personal 150-day surfing pilgrimage acts to layer lived experience into this thesis’ research methods. Themes of leisure, liberation and escapism consistently clash with others of productivity, capitalism and nature exploitation throughout the author’s research, highlighting the protected indigenous heart of this culture and how an intricate, integrative solution has not yet been found. These methods, in conjunction with the contextual analysis of Aotearoa’s surf break carparks, serve to masterplan the architectural proposition of this thesis — a seamless interface of sacred practice, community and human values. A proposition this thesis calls Surf Carparchitecture.

Guiding this thesis’ research beyond the more narrow scope of the abstract are three premises:

Working from home that is not a house:

The limitations of working from home have yet to be fully explored, and, with internet and cellular data, working from home that is not a fixed house, is entirely possible. With rent skyrocketing and houses decaying, it seems necessary to explore what it takes to mobilise workforces and communities — revitalising small coastal Aotearoa.

The evolving inaccessibility of freedom camping in Aotearoa:

Secondly, this thesis may act as a rebuttal to the Tourism Minister of New Zealand, Stuart Nash’s new legislation on freedom camping. The legislation argues for tighter rules on camping vehicles and camping locations which would decrease the accessibility of freedom camping and, therefore, gatekeep it to a class of financially wealthy retirees. As freedom camping is synonymous with the surf pilgrimage, this legislation premises this thesis’s argument for increased infrastructure as an alternative to increased restrictions and surveillance.

Surfing culture as an intersection between Indigenous Hawaiian values and contemporary Western capitalism:

I want to note that I speak from my Pākehā point of view within this thesis. I acknowledge the positive influence and values that the indigenous origin of surfing has had on my life. I want this architecture to acknowledge the often juxtaposed worlds of contemporary capitalistic society and indigenous communities. From its indigenous roots, surfing is a non-depletive and non-productive act done purely for the dance with nature. Therefore, its culture is found beyond the constructs of contemporary capitalistic society. Through interweaving both realms’ measures of productivity – which by indigenous values may be defined as deepening one’s relationship with the natural world or investing in community – this thesis proposes the ability to be “productive” in both realms.

These premises illuminate any shadowed vagaries lurking in Surf Carparchitecture’s abstract and naturally focus the lens that the reader will use in purveying the thesis’ findings.



This thesis’ overarching methodology was an exercise in navigating the dissection of unwritten but widely practised culture. The thesis’ four parts — Indigenous history (Part 1), contemporary culture (Part 2), self-practise (Part 3) and macro contextualisation (Part 4) — offer a guide to dissect essentially unwritten, but implicit, cultural phenomena that are then translated into a layered architectural response in part (Part 5). Therefore, four largely different lenses each individually supply design parameters to an architectural resolution. The result is architecture embodying the indigenous morality of cultural origins, abstracted contemporary behaviours and rituals, and consideration for individual practise, all of which are viewed in context to a country’s social and environmental landscapes. In considering such breadth of perspective and experience, a response that constructively and positively celebrates the lives of all involved is formed — an intricately considered collision between humans and nature, locals and visitors.


Finished Product

Surf Carparchitecture, in understanding surf culture’s transient nature and deep spiritual connection with coastal landscapes, provides a tapestry of insight that shows how to execute coastal architectural intervention most appropriately. The surf pilgrimage’s reductive, elemental, non-exploitative and unproductive nature best represents how coastal environments should be interacted with. The architectural response must shed the layers that sever the relationship between humans, Whenua and Moana. Simply put, if derived from Surf Carparchitecture’s response to unorthodox domestic inhabitation, coastal architecture can escape the arbitrary conventions of urban domestic architecture. The communal nature by which the surf carpark is inhabited represents a rejection of the individualistic nuclear family that defines suburban homes. Therefore, Surf Carparchitecture symbolises a step away from neo-colonial architectural dogma. Surf Carparchitecture’s scalable nature responds to the remoteness of the environment ahead of the inhabitant’s comfort needs, as opposed to the colonial use of architecture to dictate and dominate the environment for the needs of the inhabitant. Lastly, Surf Carparchitecture’s impermanent presence in carparks not only echoes the nature of mobile living on the surf pilgrimage but also more deeply stimulates the social perception of inhabitation as temporary custodianship, rather than ownership, of the environment – a physical embodiment of kaitiakitanga underpinning this project’s central theme.


Critic's Text

Two aspects of this thesis distinguish it from other Master’s theses.

The first relates to the originality of content: that is surfing. Surfing embraces the surfer’s expert understanding of the natural environment (the sea, the wind, the weather). Furthermore, surfing has a particular lifestyle, the pursuit of the perfect wave, seemingly at odds with ‘everyday life’. Yet this thesis reflects upon reconciling recreational purposes with the prosaic of accommodation. This made the thesis ‘fun’, so the process is saturated with the design enjoyment on the part of the author. 

The second aspect is the craft of draughtsmanship and visual culture that saturates the thesis. It is simply stunning. The author obviously has extensive knowledge of architectural representation, including both parallel and perspective projective. Such graphic fluency makes reading the thesis an engaging experience.
To take one’s personal interest and then show objective academic criticality to analyse, reflect, and project demonstrates much design intelligence. The recognition of surfing’s Polynesian origins rendered the thesis with an indigenous perspective that was innovative and engaging. This perspective’s subsequent development via translation into a building proposition that operated over several scales ranging from an article of clothing to urbanism was highly commendable.

-Anthony Hoete, supervisor