CPIT digs winning garden

00:08, Apr 01 2010

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology's (CPIT) Architecture Studies Department proved it had green fingers as well as sharp minds at this year's Ellerslie International Flower Show, where a garden design by third-year student Pete Hodge won gold.

The architectural team from the polytechnic was asked by Ellerslie organisers to compete against landscape design and horticultural students from throughout New Zealand in a new category called Emerging Designs.

The challenge was to design a sustainable family courtyard garden for a townhouse, with judges and visitors not only able to view the gardens from the front, but also from a walkway set above.

While the CPIT team didn't win the coveted Student Designer of the Year title, the judges recognised the overall outstanding quality of their Family Urban Garden entry as one of the best gardens on show in any category.

"Gold is obviously the best prize there, and it's judged alongside all the exhibition gardens, so it is a very good accolade," design tutor Wendy Lewell says.

Lewell led the team, which consisted of Hodge, four other architecture students and two construction management and carpentry students who also work as apprentices with garden sponsor Fletcher Construction.

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Their efforts were also recognised by the judges when the garden was nominated for the Supreme Building Award.

CPIT was asked to get involved only six months before the event, with Lewell challenging her department's second-year students to submit designs.

More than 30 entries were whittled to six, which were voted on by staff and students.

Hodge's winning design was inspired by the idea that gardens are not only for children to play in, but also for adults.

"Basically, the concept was to get away from having a small garden that was primarily full of children's plastic-fantastic toys and to create structures," the Bachelor of Architectural Studies student says.

"We picked up on that cardboard-box theory, that if you give a child a cardboard box, it can be anything they like with their imagination, and we created structures children would find fun to play on and get their imaginations running. But at the same time, when the children are not in the garden, the space has a pleasing structural quality, where adults don't feel as if they are sitting in a children's play pit."

At the core of this theme was the garden's centrepiece, a hydraulically operated table which rises out of the ground, and a rear decking structure which could be played on by children, commandeered as an adult's reading table and used for storage.

"The judges were really excited about the use of space, the way that we incorporated different levels and the different areas for interaction," Lewell said. "They were really impressed by the workmanship and the structure, and the attention to detail, and really excited about how we balanced it between adult and child play."

While the CPIT team received a $3000 grant from Ellerslie to help with construction, the garden was made possible thanks to $5000 funding support from the CPIT Foundation and the sponsorship of Fletcher Construction.

Pneumatic components specialists PSL Wholesale also made the hydraulic system for the rising table.

While most of the other gardens at the show have been dismantled, this one is on course to be a centrepiece itself outside a new restaurant development planned for the High St end of CPIT's Christchurch campus.

Whether the garden finds a lasting home there or not, it has been valuable experience for Hodge and the Architectural Studies Department.

"To have that opportunity at that stage to have something physically built, when all your assignments to that date have been paper-based or modelled, to be able to go through that whole process and put it all on public view is pretty rare," Hodge says.

"It's an experience you just can't buy."

The Press