Element 17 creates new spaces

Element 17 is making the new city look good.
Element 17 is making the new city look good.

Design and project-management firm Element 17 is helping shape the future of Christchurch's shops, offices and restaurants.

Fitting out new premises for quake-affected Christchurch businesses on the move has been the core business of Element 17 for the past 18 months or so.

This young company in Lichfield St - co-founded by Christchurch-born industrial designer Steve Rosling in 2004 - is a creative dynamo, transforming the internal spaces of empty buildings into contemporary, ready-to-use premises.

It is a process of give and take between client and designer. "There is a lot of discussion, brainstorming and free-hand scribbling before working drawings are produced," Steve says.

One of the bigger projects on the drawing board is Winnie Bagoes' new central-city premises, due to reopen by early next year.

This popular pizza restaurant, which twice lost premises to the quakes (in Gloucester St in September 2010 and in Colombo St in February last year), is to set up business in an old warehouse within the four avenues. Given there is already a recognised Winnie Bagoes style, the challenge for Element 17 has been how to apply that look to the new site. "It's a bigger site and it'll be their home base, so we're looking at evolving their style a bit," Steve says. "Everything there is going to be new. People will recognise it as Winnie Bagoes, but we will go for a more industrial feel. Definitely, it's a Winnie's of the future."

Working from a very different style book, Element 17 also fitted out Copenhagen Bakery's new premises on Harewood Rd and completed an extensive fit-out for the Radio Network, which saw an industrial warehouse morph into a bright new space with production and broadcasting studios, offices, board and meeting rooms.

For a South American-style bar in Beckenham, authenticity was created through sharing extensive research, travel experiences and reference material, plus liaising with the company's many suppliers.

"We've been involved with helping a café down the road - Café Lumes. We call it Lumes 2.0. The first one down Lichfield St is totally gone ...We've also helped out the Twisted Hop, plus Saunders Robinson Brown, who were in the Ernst and Young Building, and Underground at Sumner.

"Currently, we're working with a well-known coffee franchise. The guys who run it are very passionate about what they do and very specific about what they like - but they also want to be surprised and impressed by what we can bring to the party. It's very much a collective process.

"Soon, we'll also get started on the new 1300sqm EPIC [Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus, the city's new IT hub] building."

After months of "temporary chic" dominating the city's hospitality scene, change is definitely in the air. Steve says clients are increasingly interested in raising the bar.

"People are looking for quality service and quality food and they definitely want to be in an environment that looks like it has had some care and attention put into it. The trend going forward is simple sophistication."

Christchurch born and bred, Steve grew up liking beautiful things that were also functional. It led him to the School of Design and Architecture in Wellington, where he completed a Diploma in Industrial Design.

He then travelled to London and Dublin, just as Ireland was entering its Celtic Tiger period. So over-heated was the Irish economy back then, Steve remembers seeing queues of people lining up to buy properties in new subdivisions.

While the bubble was not to last, it was a good place and time to be a young industrial designer. Steve landed a job with a shop fit-out company there and was then head-hunted for an office fit-out firm.

"There were huge tax breaks for call centres, so we were doing these massive call centres for big-brand companies ..."

About four years later, he flew back to New Zealand for his sister's wedding and the following year decided to move back for good, accepting a position with a Christchurch-based company.

Eight years ago, he co-founded Element 17, taking over sole ownership of it four or five years ago. He now leads a team of dedicated professionals with skills covering concept and architectural design, commercial redevelopment and project management.

Ironically, after assisting so many Christchurch clients to set up new premises, Element 17 might soon be on the hunt for a new base. "That's because the new city blueprint puts us in the middle of a rugby field [the planned covered stadium]."

Whatever happens, Element 17 will be ready with drawings in hand, shaping its own future.