The top 20 of New Zealand architecture

Proving that design quality is not governed by size or style, the 20 winning projects in this year's New Zealand Architecture Awards ranged from the Auckland Art Gallery to a city chapel to a mountainside cafe.

“The standard of public and commercial projects was very high,” says Hugh Tennent, the convenor of the New Zealand Institute of Architects awards jury. “The awards show that, despite the financial constraints we’re all facing, public bodies and private developers are commissioning high-quality buildings.”

Novotel Auckland Airport by Warren and Mahoney Architects – Commercial Judges said: A direct and assertive building capitalising on opportunities to add distinctiveness to an inevitably generic building type Te Wharewaka by architecture+ – Commercial Judges said: Prickly and armour-plated, Te Wharewaka assertively claims its place next to Victorian neighbours ANVIL by Patterson Associates Limited - Commercial Judges said: Exceptional, masterful, welcoming, assertive Knoll Ridge Café by Harris Butt Architecture Ltd – Commercial Judges said: This is audacious architecture, realised in collaboration with an ingenious engineer, intrepid builders, and a client determined to make the most of a breathtaking setting. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki by FJMT + Archimedia – Heritage Judges said: Galleries restored to their original glory; acknowledging the distinctive character of its two constituent parts, old and new Government House Conservation by Athfield Architects – Heritage Judges said: An excellent exercise in conservation architecture New Lynn Transit-Oriented Development by Architectus and Architecture Brewer Davidson – Planning and Urban Design Judges said: A successor to the noble tradition of railway architecture, this project is a beacon of quality in a sea of indifferent buildings and a benchmark for future development Wynyard Quarter Urban Design Framework by Architectus – Planning and Urban Design Judges said: A qualitative advance in the thinking about the occupation and use of the Auckland waterfront Owhanake Bay House by Strachan Group Architects – Residential Judges said: Eminently fit for purpose, direct without being directional Tutukaka Beach House by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects (Auckland) Ltd – Residential Judges said: Structured and relaxed, all black against ocean blue, a sense of envelopment in layers of space Under Pohutukawa by Herbst Architects Ltd – Residential Judges said: A beguiling essay in the relationship between structure and setting, order and nature, requirements and responsibilities House for Five by RTA Studio – Residential Judges said: The house might be straight and narrow, but it’s also refreshingly unconventional Lomas House by Peter Middleton – Enduring Judges said: Clever, subtle, is a case study in the lasting benefits of a sympathetic relationship between clients and architect Otago Boys High School Redevelopment 1982 by McCoy and Wixon Architects Ltd – Enduring Judges said: A symphony in concrete, terrific composition MOTAT Aviation Display Hall by Studio Pacific Architecture – Sustainable Judges said: An admirable economy of structure Mt Iron House by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Chin Architects – Small Project Judges said: Renounces profligacy in favour of design rigour and conceptual consistency Studio for an Artist by Ashley Cox Architects – Small Project Judges said: A delightful realisation of the art of architecture St Thomas’ Chapel in St Matthew-in-the-City by Salmond Reed Architects Limited – Small Project Judges said: An adroit reconciliation of difference and deference NMIT Arts and Media Building by Irving Smith Jack Architects – Public Judges said: Establishes an exemplary design precedent in a growing provincial city Remarkables Primary School by Babbage Consultants Limited – Public Judges said: Impressive and inspiring, acknowledges but not overawed by a truly remarkable setting

He says several trends were evident in this year's entries.

“There’s a greater effort going into improving urban environments and infrastructure,” says Tennent, “and a more sophisticated approach to repairing and developing our cities.”

These developments, Tennent says, are exemplified by two award-winning Auckland projects, both designed by Architectus – the new transport hub at New Lynn, which has untangled local infrastructural knots by lowering a rail platform beneath ground level, and the Urban Design Framework for Wynyard Quarter, which represents “a significant advance in the thinking about occupying and enjoying our waterfronts.”

A second feature is the presence of projects instigated or enabled by Maori funders. Te Wharewaka, a commercial building on Wellington’s waterfront, designed by architecture+, and the Novotel Auckland Airport, designed by Warren and Mahoney Architects, convey in their design “a sense of what is physically and culturally unique about New Zealand”.

The strength of architectural responses to powerful or sensitive settings was another theme of the awards, one Tennent says offers a positive message to a nation often suspicious about the place of buildings in the landscape.

The Auckland Art Gallery, in which Sydney-based FJMT in association with local practice Archimedia restored the existing gallery and added a “beautifully proportioned and stunningly appointed” new building, is “the well-handled connection with Albert Park”. The Auckland Art Gallery received awards in both the public architecture and heritage categories.

A confident treatment of the relationship between buildings and landscape is also evident on two very different but equally dramatic sites. On the Whakapapa skifield on Mt Ruapehu, Harris Butt Architecture’s Knoll Ridge Café is a “wonderful building,” Tennent says, “truly audacious in its design and also in its construction, which was carried out under very difficult circumstances”.

In Queenstown, Babbage Consultants’ Remarkables Primary School lives up to the promise of its name. Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the state school “not only brilliantly serves its pedagogical purpose,” Tennent says, “but also provides a clearly identifiable community place in an area not well supplied with high-quality public architecture”.      

An outstanding example of a built response to a tough urban environment is Anvil, an Auckland commercial building designed by Patterson Associates for a site on a perennially busy four-lane road.   

Tennent says the judges were highly impressed by two winners using innovative timber structural technology – Nelson’s NMIT Arts and Media Building, designed by Irving Smith Jack Architects, was commissioned as a test-case, multi-level timber building. And in Auckland, the MOTAT Aviation Display Hall, designed by Studio Pacific Architecture, uses record-breaking spans of laminated veneer lumber to provide a generous volume of space for a collection of vintage aircraft.

While the Architecture Awards mainly celebrate new buildings, they also acknowledge significant conservation and restoration projects. The jury praised the conservation of Wellington’s Government House, carried out by Athfield Architects, pointing to the thorough research and detailed recording behind the revitalisation of an important heritage building, and home of the country’s titular head of state.          

 At the other end of the architectural scale, Salmond Reed Architects deservedly won an award, Tennent says, for an artful insertion of St Thomas’ Chapel, originally housed in a 19th century missionary ship, into St-Matthew-in-the-City Church in downtown Auckland, itself a recently restored heritage building.

This “little jewel” of was one of several small projects to receive awards. The others were the light-filled studio for an artist fitted into a Napier garden by Ashley Cox Architects –“a delightful realisation of the art of architecture”, the jury said – and a modest holiday house designed by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Chin Architects, inspired by the model of a tramping hut in a bush clearing.

But Tennent says it was disappointing the awards jury was not presented with examples of medium or high density projects. “These are building types we desperately need to be good if we are to persuade people there are alternatives to urban sprawl and the endless building of motorways.” 

However, Tennent says, the high quality of house architecture was again evident, “even though this year’s standout houses didn’t strive to stand out”. Three of the four award winners in the residential category are stained or coloured a recessive black, the exception being RTA Studio’s “innovative and playful” House for Five.

The three other Award-winning houses are all in coastal environments. Herbst Architects’ house at Piha, which the architects have called, poetically but also accurately, Under Pohutukawa.

On Waiheke Island, Strachan Group Architects have designed “a generous and liveable, well ordered and well ventilated house, which is successfully integrated with its natural surroundings”. Meanwhile Crosson Clarke Carnachan won an award for a beach house on Northland’s Tutukaka Coast, “an assured house, all black against ocean blue, that sits confidently on its site”.

The last category is Enduring Architecture, that is, buildings that have stood the test of time. Two such awards were made, one for the Lomas House in Hamilton, designed in the early 1950s by the late Peter Middleton. The house, the Awards jury said, “has gracefully kept pace with family life for more than half a century”. The second nod went to the 1982 redevelopment of Otago Boys High School, which was undertaken by McCoy and Wixon Architects, under the design leadership of Ted McCoy.

Joining Tennent on the jury were architects Ivan Mercep, Ginny Pedlow, Gary Lawson, and Melbourne-based John Wardle.

The jury will select one project winners to receive the 2012 New Zealand Architecture Medal, the top award given in any year by the New Zealand Institute of Architects. That decision will be announced in May.


Commercial Architecture

ANVIL, Mt Eden, Auckland by Patterson Associates Limited

Knoll Ridge Café, Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu by Harris Butt Architecture Ltd

Novotel Auckland Airport by Warren and Mahoney Architects

Te Wharewaka, Wellington by architecture+


Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki by FJMT + Archimedia architects in association  

Government House Conservation, Wellington by Athfield Architects

Planning and Urban Design

New Lynn Transit-Oriented Development, Auckland by Architectus and Architecture Brewer Davidson Limited in association

Wynyard Quarter Urban Design Framework, Auckland by Architectus

Public Architecture

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki by FJMT + Archimedia architects in association  

NMIT Arts and Media Building, Nelson by Irving Smith Jack Architects Ltd

Remarkables Primary School, Queenstown by Babbage Consultants Limited

Residential Architecture – Houses

House for Five, Grey Lynn, Auckland by RTA Studio

Tutukaka Beach House, Northland by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects (Auckland) Ltd

Owhanake Bay House, Waiheke Island by Strachan Group Architects – SGA

Under Pohutukawa, Auckland by Herbst Architects Ltd

Small Project Architecture 

Mt Iron House, Wanaka by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Chin Architects Ltd

St Thomas’ Chapel in St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland by Salmond Reed Architects Limited

Studio for an Artist, Napier by Ashley Cox Architect

Sustainable Architecture

MOTAT Aviation Display Hall, Westmere, Auckland by Studio Pacific Architecture

Enduring Architecture

Lomas House, Hamilton by Peter Middleton

Otago Boys High School Redevelopment 1982, Dunedin by McCoy and Wixon Architects Ltd

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