NZ buildings top of the world?   31 Jul 2012

Anna Blair

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The shortlist for the World Architecture Festival Awards was announced last week, and includes eight New Zealand buildings. Fearon Hay are the best represented firm, playing a part in three of the eight projects nominated. All the completed projects from New Zealand are from the North Island.

Some shortlisted designs are testament to the rebirth of Auckland’s CBD and waterfront over the last few years. Auckland suffered particularly from the global exodus to the suburbs and birth of the motorcar in the latter half of the twentieth century. Recently, though, the inner city has returned to fashion.

Most notable in this respect is the waterfront area nominated in the Urban Landscape Projects category. North Wharf Promenade, Silo Park and Jellicoe Street by Taylor Cullity Lethlean opened exactly a year ago from Saturday, on the 6th of August 2011. This renewal of the Wynyard Quarter has proven very popular, opening up the waterfront and connecting it to Auckland’s CBD.

The design takes advantage of the area’s industrial qualities, with silos used to dramatic effect and shipping containers refashioned into design elements. Spaces are managed and differentiated through a variety of outdoor seating. One space features oversized wooden deck chairs, and ‘tidal steps’ provide additional seating whilst uniting the area with the surrounding water.

Fearon Hay’s Auckland project nominated in the ‘Old and New’ category, the Imperial Buildings, are testament to the CBD’s untapped potential. The Imperial Buildings sit on the lower end of Queen Street and it would be easy to pass them without noticing. Until recently, most weren’t aware of the space inside the group of three buildings, which housed two derelict cinemas.

The firm have transformed the buildings from a maze with few tenants to a series of dramatic spaces. The back of the building, on ?? street, has been opened up into a large sloping space of triple-height. A small passageway leads through to Queen Street. Throughout, elegant black and frosted glass surfaces are paired with exposed brick walls.

A spiral staircase beside the building’s lift leads, surprisingly, to a central courtyard. Two restaurants occupy the spaces that were previously cinemas, one more casual, in white tones, and the other with a dark glamour. The Imperial Buildings now have a refined industrial vibe, stripped back and spare. There’s a confidence in design here that’s sometimes lacking around the Queen Street area, where arcades are often cluttered and architecture uncared for.

Outside Auckland, Fearon Hay’s Brancott Estate Heritage Centre is nominated in the ‘Display’ category, and Island Retreat, a house the firm designed on Waiheke Island is on the shortlist for ‘Villas’. Both projects are as one might expect from the firm, sleek and elegant, perched dramatically above their surrounding landscapes.

Another nominated New Zealand house has been making waves in international design circles and popping up regularly in local press. This is Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects’ House on Sleds, built for an area on the Coromandel Peninsula where all buildings must be removable due to erosion. The interior of the house makes clever use of the compact space, sleeping five through use of bunk beds and internal balconies.

The final built project to be nominated is in the ‘Office’ category. This is Patterson Associates’ ‘Geyser’ building in Parnell. The building is New Zealand’s first 6 Green Star – Office Design rated building, designed to use 27 percent of the usual energy required for a building of its size. This is due largely to the twin-skin façade, which moderates the building’s heat so that no artificial temperature control system is needed.

Two projects have been nominated in the Future Projects division. These are RTA Studio’s carbon neutral C3 House, in the ‘House’ category, and The Flood’s Whanau Ora Centre in the ‘Health’ category. C3 House is to be built near Lake Wanaka, made entirely from recyclable materials that blend in well with the surrounding landscape.

The World Architecture Festival is being held in Singapore this year, from October 3rd to 5th. Representatives from all firms will travel to the festival to present their designs. 14 buildings from the United Kingdom are nominated in an impressively global spread.

Anna Blair is a freelance writer and architectural historian studying hotels from the 1920s. She currently divides her time between Paris and East London. Further work can be found at her blog – Dispatches from Europe.

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