Designworks’ daunting task of rebuilding the Crowne Plaza Christchurch

Artist's impression
After a competitive pitching process, Designworks has won the largest interior design hotel project in New Zealand – the retooling of the former Forsyth Barr building to become the new Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The previous Crowne Plaza, standing on Kilmore Street, ended its life three years ago. Like other iconic Christchurch buildings, its demolition was met with shock and grief from residents and local businesses alike.

As the city rebuilds itself in what is one of the largest rebuild efforts in the world, the Crowne Plaza started its own rebuilding by selecting Designworks, a design agency with Australasia communication group STW, earlier this month.

They’re set to take over the former Forsyth Barr building, and over the next 18 months, turn it into a 200-room hotel with bars and restaurants.

Set to open in 2017, the steel-and-glass monolith will tower over an area Sam Brodie, Designworks innovation creative director, calls “barren”. But he’s not worried.

“It’s a case of ‘if we build it they will come’,” Brodie says. “There’s heaps of potential here to celebrate New Zealand design culture.”

And while other hotels and large-scale projects will come in the future, the Crowne Plaza will be the first project of such magnitude, according to Brodie. Which means they need to get it right on the first try.

“It’s one of the tallest building left standing,” Clark Pritchard, Designworks group head of spatial design, says. “And really, it’s not a classic piece of architecture, so it’s about bringing New Zealand flavours into it.”

Designworks approached Crowne Plaza, part of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), with an innovative and fresh approach in their pitch.

It’s a case of ‘if we build it they will come'. There’s heaps of potential here to celebrate New Zealand design culture.

Putting together interiors, technology, service, innovation, and brand design into a complete holistic point of view that’s not purely focused on the interior ultimately won them the pitch.

The pair says that a project like this, especially one that’s so important to Christchurch, means they’re consulting with all types of local businesses and creatives.

From local artists and sculptors, to coffee roasters and restaurateurs, textiles and bespoke prints – everything has to be just right.

“[We’re] trying to make the building more personal, more inviting,” Pritchard says. “A kind of residential and domestic design. New Zealand equals ‘being welcomed’.

“And it’s about showcasing New Zealand retailers, New Zealand hospitality. Local businesses for local people.”

Brodie agrees. “It’s about creating a project that is a reflection of Christchurch, and the wider New Zealand,” he says.

That sentiment is helped by excitement that’s generated in the on-going rebuild.

“There’s an excitement for people to create something new and lively,” Brodie says. “There are gorilla gardens, contemporary artworks, whole buildings covered with murals.”

They both agree it’s an amazing place to spark creativity. But it’s early days yet, and with plans only just starting to be laid out, there’s plenty of work to be done.