Tight times no barrier to quality

Last updated 05:00 16/05/2012

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Twenty projects recognised in the 2012 New Zealand Architecture Awards prove design quality is not governed by the size of buildings or type of work, says the award jury convenor Hugh Tennent.

Winners ranged from the Auckland Art Gallery to a Napier artist's studio, from a chapel in an inner-city church to a cafe on the side of a mountain, and from an airport hotel to a lakeside school.

"The awards show that despite the financial constraints we're all facing, public bodies and private developers are commissioning high-quality buildings.

"It was also good to see that architects are finding ways to deliver great work in these tight times – as they should.

"There's a greater effort going into improving urban environments and infrastructure and a more sophisticated approach to repairing and developing our cities."

This was 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 on Auckland waterfront.

A second feature was the presence of projects instigated or enabled by Maori funders.

Te Wharewaka on Wellington's waterfront, designed by architecture+, and the Novotel Auckland Airport, designed by Warren and Mahoney Architects, conveyed "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 and one which, Tennent says, offers a positive message to a nation often suspicious about the place of buildings in the landscape.

Sydney-based FJMT, in association with local practice Archimedia, had restored the Auckland Art Gallery and added a "beautifully proportioned and stunningly appointed" new building that was a well-handled connection with Albert Park. A confident treatment of the relationship between buildings and landscape was also shown on the Whakapapa skifield on Mt Ruapehu.

Harris Butt Architecture's Knoll Ridge Cafe is a "wonderful building ... truly audacious in its design and also in its construction, which was carried out under very difficult circumstances", the judges said.

They also praised two projects for the use of 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 the MOTAT Aviation Display Hall, designed by Studio Pacific Architecture, used record-breaking spans of laminated veneer lumber to provide a generous volume of space for a collection of vintage aircraft.

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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.

Judges said the light-filled studio for an artist fitted into a Napier garden by Ashley Cox Architects was a delightful realisation of the art of architecture.

Tennent said it was disappointing the 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."

The judging panel – which also included Ivan Mercep, Ginny Pedlow, Gary Lawson and Melbourne-based John Wardle – will select the winner of the 2012 New Zealand Architecture Medal on May 25.

- The Dominion Post

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