Art of architecture

Art meets architecture with the refurbishment of ANZ foyer by Warren and Mahoney.

Corporate art, probably deservedly, gets a bit of a bad rap. Much of it is sanitised, superficial, little more than a backdrop to the suits that pass by. Yet this is changing. A significant refurbishment and addition to the ANZ foyer in central Auckland designed by Warren and Mahoney has positioned art within the architecture in a way that will change perceptions of what corporate art and architecture can be.

First, these works are huge. Not just in scale, though in spanning entire walls in the vaulted foyer they are big, but they’re immense in terms of their significance within the art world. And while it might be an easy stereotype to label all corporates as cultural neophytes, this is actually far from the truth. In fact, when Warren and Mahoney initially pitched the concept of a significant art component as part of the foyer project, it was acknowledged that the level of understanding of art by the people working within the tower was a major driver for the works to be internationally renowned. 

Art consultant Paul Baragwanath worked with Warren and Mahoney and building owner Precinct to create a collection that wasn’t just a surface treatment but would consist of pieces that would develop and grow in importance, even to those who walk past them daily.

The proposal for art pieces in the foyer may not seem, at the outset, like a particularly revolutionary idea. There are walls, and the assumption would be to put something on them. Yet it is actually rare for an art programme to be proposed by the architecture firm in the earliest stages of the project, with the architecture designed in consideration for future art works, and artists given a brief to directly respond to, and amplify, the space in which they’re placed. Too often art can be an afterthought, the corporate equivalent of throw cushions, added for a splash of colour. Here, however, the artworks respond to the space and in some cases take on functional, architectural tasks.

The Sara Hughes work commissioned for a long glass wall in the new internal public thoroughfare – what the architects have dubbed ‘the pavilion’ – doesn’t just provide visual pleasure, but the layering of vinyl shapes on both sides of the glass wall create a dynamic veil to a uninteresting firewall and adjoining building. Another smaller work proposed by Hughes further develops this concealing/revealing dichotomy in a glass partition between separated lift lobbies to provide privacy at eye level, but fragments towards the ceiling to reveal a continuous architectural ceiling element that spans both areas.

The ANZ tower, designed in the late ’80s by Australian firm Hassell, was overtly of its time: rosso porrino granite; a curving form with little connection to any urban context surrounding the building; and a foyer designed for circulation. By adding a new rectilinear spine along the northern side of the site, the foyer was expanded significantly, creating an internal public thoroughfare and a more generous seating hall with a café for informal meetings. That the artworks have been located in the public link adds another social layer to the design.

Between the circular colonnade of the original tower base and the rectilinear spine leading to a wide staircase that in turn leads to a suite of conference rooms, an artwork by United States-based Winston Roeth – saturated colour fields within gold frames – amplifies the intersection of forms and the formal grandeur of the space.

This isn’t the first project where Warren and Mahoney have worked with artists within their architectural strategy; past projects such as the New Zealand Supreme Court and the Deloitte Centre, have also placed art as a central element within projects.

John Coop is an Auckland-based Principal and Executive Director of architecture and design firm Warren and Mahoney.

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