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My favourite places: Damien van Brandenburg

Damien van Brandenburg of Architecture van Brandenburg has a vision to redevelop the Dunedin waterfront. He's not alone in this plan, with locals and key stakeholders throwing their support behind it. 

In July, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced a cash injection towards the project. Dunedin City Council will receive $820,000 to complete a full feasibility assessment and development of a business case for the Dunedin Waterfront Project, which will include engineering, environmental and commercial feasibility.

Here, van Brandenburg shares a few of his favourite places in Dunedin, including his proposed design for the Southern Steamer Basin. 

  • Read Elly Strang's story about the ambitious vision for Dunedin's waterfront here. 

We set up our studio in Dunedin 10 years ago, and one of the aspects that initially drew us in has been the outstanding accessibility of Dunedin – that is its accessibility within the city, to its people, resources required and the natural landscape that surrounds it.

Along with my wife Ashleigh and our dog Lulu, I live in an inner city apartment within Dunedin, it is a converted brick warehouse that once was the art studio of Grahame Sydney. Now it is an open-plan living space with expansive four metre high windows providing us with a commanding view from the sky to the sea and the city in-between.

The low rise cityscape with the occasional neo-gothic spire reminiscent of the architectural heritage that spans from the Octagon – the centre of the city – down the warehouse precinct that once was the bustle of industry is now a tech hub with great cafes, across to the Dunedin harbourside docks, a dilapidated part of the city that o ers a great opportunity for the future of Dunedin, and beyond the vista of the Peninsula with its abundancy of wildlife. All are within a short walk, bike ride or car trip. The city holds an array of character and possibilities.

Another short walk from my apartment is my studio, and from there I can be at one of my favourite cafes, Heritage cafe, a once derelict Art Deco style building in Vogel street that is now a revitalised part of Dunedin.

Ian Ross

The café has recently been renovated and rejuvenated. The building has retained its original exterior character, but the modernised interior allows for the meeting of minds, and a social hub of engagement. Adding to the atmosphere of the interior courtyard is a nature inspired mural by my good friend, San Francisco based artist Ian Ross, who has completed works around the world and was pleased to be a part of the rapidly growing Dunedin mural art scene (complete with a self-guided tour around all the other murals within the CBD).

Ian Ross

Ian and I collaborated on a series of sculptures that were on exhibition in San Francisco and then reciprocated in Dunedin. 

Often I stroll through Queens Gardens leading me to another one of my favourite places, the Dunedin Railway Station and on a Saturday morning the Otago Farmers Market. These two create a juncture position of the formalised Renaissance Revival architecture, flanked by the informal nature of the temporary markets.

This vibrant space, once the busiest station in New Zealand handling up to 100 trains a day, is now on a Saturday morning transformed into one of the most socially and densely populated urban spaces within the city. Enjoyment over coffee, live music and fresh produce allows for locals and visitors to connect and engage in conversations with seasonal produce under one's arm.

From here, crossing over railway lines, and a bypass road, a short distance from the CBD is the Southern Steamer Basin. A once productive part of the city and the local economy, it is now severed from the city, the dilapidated inlet gives insight into its past and presents an opportunity for the future of Dunedin.

I, along with Ian Taylor (Animation Research), the Dunedin City Council, Otago Regional Council, Port Otago and local Runaka, have created a master plan vision for the Southern Steamer Basin. The intent of the Dunedin Harbour Vision is to create an environmentally responsible built environment, an exemplar that respects the past, by interweaving our culture and builds for a better future. 

One of the key accesses for pedestrian and cyclists into the harbour is via the proposed frond bridge. This connects the city to the harbour, traversing both railway and road and links in with the existing cycle networks. The spanning bridge will be flanked with leaf-like ‘solar petals’ either side of the bridge crossing. The fronds will be clad with PVC solar panels, the leaf petals will respond to the sun, rotating and tracking the sun’s path throughout the day to generate the maximum amount of solar energy, this can be harnessed to light the bridge and power the venue spaces below the abutment. This will celebrate the crossing from the city to the harbour and provide the tone of expectation of environmentally conscious aspects of the built environment. 

Marine Research centre:

The design of the Marine Research centre is symbolic of a fluke of a Southern Right Whale breaching above the sea. This is a reminder that Southern Right Whales that calved in the Dunedin Harbour, prior to European industrialisation. The Marine research centre is intended to be a centre for excellence in Marine research and Environmental research providing access to the Southern oceans. The skeletal form will have glazed panels between the portal ribs. It is intended that the northern side will have solar panels between the portal ribs and the southern side will have clear glazed windows.

Mixed-use Waka complex:

The design is based on an abstraction of the traditional vernacular double-hulled Waka that sailed within Otago, this forms an exhibition centre, office spaces and apartments. The rooftop garden will be semi-enclosed with a solar canopy providing passive solar and water collection to be used within the building for residents.

5-star hotel:

The hotel consists of two low rise buildings reducing the impact of solar shading. Situated on a currently reclaimed area of the Steamer basin, the pair of buildings have been arranged around an area of land that is intended to be returned to the sea. A gesture similar to the first catch of traditional Māori fishing voyages, this will create a lagoon between the two hotel wings and water views from all rooms. The top floor would be an enclosed biosphere roof garden providing a flourishing green space all year round,
this would be a breathing ecosystem that circulates fresh air into the rest of the hotel complex. All water collected from the glazed roof garden would be used to irrigate the biosphere internal garden. 

Culture Centre:

The Culture centre is an abstract reference to the Otago cockles. The environmental design intent of the shells is to provide a large surface area to embed PVC panels onto the external surface creating a solar sync for passive solar gain and an internal space dedicated to the arts. Close by, the Otago Peninsula is the place where I find most of my inspiration. Here, traversing hills and coastal stretches on my bicycle, I’m continually wowed by the native flora and fauna: penguins, seals, dolphins and whales are regularly visible.

I have even come across an albatross in the centre of the road with its outstretched wingspan greater than mine reminding me that we are visitors to their habitat and we are fortunate to share this coastline with some of the most beautiful wildlife that New Zealand has to offer – all of this accessible from the city of Dunedin.

Here I love showing off to visitors the abundant kaimoana, that in the right spots you can bury your hands in the sand and pull up handfuls of clams and enjoy a picnic on the beach with some of the freshest seafood one can experience, a reminder of the natural world and how this can inspire design and architecture alike. 

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