Design 'transformer' to target urban regeneration

Prominent architect and big-time Hamilton fan Anthony Flannery, of Chow: Hill, is to launch his own company specialising in transformation design, a concept new to New Zealand which will target urban regeneration.

Flannery, a British-registered architect, is managing director of Chow:Hill, which was behind major Hamilton construction projects including the Claudelands Events Centre, the Bridgewater commercial building at the south end of Hamilton, St Andrews Village and the Tainui Endowment College.

His new company, to be operating from early April and as yet unnamed, will be based in Auckland. But Flannery, who "spends half my life in Hamilton", despite living in Auckland for the past 13 years since arriving from Britain, intends to spend a great deal more time in the city. He says he has a "passion" for Hamilton and believes it has a great future he wants to contribute to.

Transformation design is an emerging design discipline attributed to Hilary Cottam, who was recognised in response to a public vote in 2005 by the London Design Museum for her work redesigning prisons, schools and healthcare services.

Flannery says that while the British public, unencumbered by conventional views as to what makes design, loved Cottam's work, the design industry "was in an uproar" because she was not a trained or traditional designer of "things".

Instead, she applied a design approach to some of Britain's biggest problems: prisoner reoffending rates, failing secondary schools and the increasing burden of chronic healthcare.

Her recognition highlighted an emerging split in the design industry between traditionalists and transformers, Flannery says.

His new company will approach transformation projects using a team of consultants with a wide range of skills, from spatial design to finance, communications to economics.

Flannery says an example of the sort of urban-regeneration projects he will target is Housing New Zealand's major transformation plan for Tamaki, Auckland. The Glen Innes project intends to improve housing, parks, education and community facilities, and the lifestyle prospects of those who will live there in future.

Flannery says potential clients grappling with complex problems where traditional problem-solving approaches are proving ineffective include government agencies, local councils, institutions, companies and developers.

Key characteristics of transformation design clients would be visionary, leadership, curiosity, change-motivated (either through inspiration or desperation), courage, impatience and frustration, he says.

"The process involved in designing successful products, places, services and innovations is a highly transferable one. It can be applied to almost any problem. Important benefits include a mechanism for placing the person, the user, at the heart of a solution.

"Transformation design goes beyond creative and inspirational problem-solving. [It] creates products, places, services, spaces, interactions and experiences that not only address physical and functional parameters, but also address metaphysical and emotional needs, producing outcomes that are desirable, aspirational, compelling and delightful."

This integration of physical and metaphysical qualities is fundamental to addressing the needs of organisations in both the private and public sector that want to transform the way in which they connect to individuals, Flannery says.

New Zealand offers significant opportunity "to keep a transformation design team busy", he says, but international work is also a possibility for the new company.

Flannery will be a guest speaker at the Waikato Property Council's half-day interactive conference on urban design on March 29. He says he has agreed to donate his speaking time to the Property Council and Property Institute in the coming weeks to help further Hamilton's strategic ambitions.

Waikato Times