How Lockdown Has Changed The Way We Think About Home
From the way we interact with neighbours to salvaged furniture, Claire McCall talks to design professionals about how recent times have changed the way we live
Dan is a director and one of the founders of Box, a design and build company established in 2009, which has a focus on reshaping residential architecture.
What did you learn from lockdown?
That the function of homes and neighbourhoods has been forgotten; there's a tendency to think of houses mainly as assets or status symbols. It was great to be drawn closer to neighbours and get to know the local area, and heartening because several clients contacted us to say just how grateful they were to have a house they enjoyed spending so much time in. And while we can't take all the credit, one couple even managed a home birth in their lounge during lockdown!
Are you looking at things differently in the way you build houses?
Yes. We rely on complex, lengthy supply chains with many stakeholders and multiple potential points of failure — so supporting New Zealand-made when it comes to our supply chain should move up the priority list. That's easier said than done because we don't have the market scale to sustain local manufacturing at a competitive price.
I hope the pandemic marks a sea-change for globalisation so Kiwi companies producing beautiful things like Middle Earth [tiles] can not only survive, but thrive.
What is the best future for the design-and-build industry?
A return to craft using materials and patterns that tie us to the culture and resources of New Zealand instead of to chemical-soaked, synthetic materials. We should have guilds for stonemasonry, ironmongery, toi whakairo. Also, somewhat paradoxically, componentised construction where core house elements are made by regional businesses then assembled on site.
This could bring down the cost of building and support the growth of regional enterprise. Craft and automation can co-exist but this innovation needs to be driven by more "makers", fewer economists, engineers and process designers.
How does design create a sense of place and community?
We tend to think of homes individualistically and don't very well understand how to create a wider sense of community. Within small clusters of homes, the priority for road design should be to promote non-car access and common spaces (mews, parks, pedestrian areas), to use traditional materials and craft, even enabling owners take part in the making of their home so they have a greater sense of ownership.
We should design for a balance between private, economic and civil buildings and create a mix of homes so we aren't building purely "social" or "aged care" communities and stigmatising the poor or old. Our towns should enable a closer integration of workplace and family life and we should endeavour to build more beautiful, performing buildings. Unfortunately, to achieve this we need to reject our slavish devotion to modernism.
Janice has loved interior design since she was a teenager and now has her own design studio as well as Mr & Mrs Ward, a company she set up with her husband to make bespoke furniture and accessories.
What did you learn from lockdown?
I re-evaluated what I want for my family — and my work family. Where do we see ourselves? What's our lane? Being in lockdown helped me appreciate the smaller moments and to slow down.
I started to use Instagram to document things I love — like the figs given to us by our neighbours or past projects I'd worked on with colleagues and clients who became friends.
How are you looking at things differently?
My own home has had a massive declutter and I try to finish at 3pm to be with the kids — and spend more time shopping, not at a supermarket, but the neighbourhood vegetable shop and butchery. I've also looked at the relevance of my communal projects.
In one public space we're working on, instead of using international artists who may have more of a name, I have put forward local artists whose work resonates with the community. I love that our park in Oratia has seating inspired by apple crates, referencing the orchards that were once here.
How will our homes change post-pandemic?
I hope they become more considered, so we stop impulse-buying and save up for that special piece. But salvaging second-hand has become massive for me.
We recently kept a sofa in its original traditional woven jacquard (the client initially wanted it re-covered) and it works perfectly. I hope we become more conscious that there isn't always the need to rip off the back of the house and rebuild — and start to fix, renovate and restore instead.
How can design capture a sense of place?
I've started following the work of Simone Haag, a Melbourne designer who uses pieces that are inherently Australian and yet the narrative is design-driven — it feels part of the Antipodes without being themed. And I love the creative style of photographer Lauren Bamford who collaborated on the interiors of Slow Beam, a luxury getaway in Hobart that teams black with rich jewel-like colours.
It's dramatic but acknowledges its place in the Ozzie bush with little touches like slate floors, locally sourced tiles and sheepskin seats on the bar stools.
What is your new inspiration?
In lockdown I watched a series of online master classes, delivered by high achievers in the States. One of my favourites was Ron Finley, a community activist and self-proclaimed "gangsta" gardener.
He made me think about eating locally and planting seasonally and the power of a garden to change your entire diet. Also, I can't wait to read Know Your Place by Golriz Ghahraman, which is about her making her place here as an immigrant.
Architect Richard Naish founded RTA Studio in 1999 and the practice has gone on to receive multiple awards including the New Zealand Architecture Medal and recognition at the World Architecture Festival.
What have you learned from lockdown?
I was amazed at our willingness to pull together for the collective good. As a nation, our response to put "health before wealth" says a lot about our underlying culture and the leadership of New Zealand.
It reminded me how the simple things in life matter. At work, I had a great team who adapted to change. RTA Studio became 28 studios across Auckland and everyone pulled together with a commitment that was incredible to witness.
Are you doing business differently?
The dynamics of a team collaborating around a table is impossible to match with Zoom (yet) so I still see the physical office as an essential tool: human interaction is an essential part of making buildings for people. So, while we haven't had an epiphany, we are looking at the flexibility of the working day, where staff can extend hours at home while joining meetings but be at the studio for the core of the productive day.
This gives the juggling of young families and traffic a new set of tools and ultimately leads to greater efficiency and wellness.
How will our environments change post the Covid-19 crisis?
I was fortunate to have a wonderful house to lock down in with my wife and three teenage children, but it could have been a lot harder in an older, colder place. It reinforced my understanding of how good design affects wellness of mind and body.
I think there will be a greater desire for Kiwis to improve their interior environments as they recognise the power of domestic architecture to lift the human spirit. On a communal and urban level, we all acknowledged the essential role our parks and urban environments played in lockdown. And … the luxury of not using the car for five weeks! Hopefully we will see greater public demand for better pedestrian routes and cycleways.
How do buildings create a sense of place and community?
When buildings are closed, it's the best test of our cities because it is the space between buildings that makes cities liveable. The last two decades of commitment to this principle has meant Auckland was a great outdoor city to enjoy over lockdown.
Buildings can become catalysts to urban change; they acknowledge local context, whether that be historical, cultural, or social — in the way that Ironbank knits its modern facade into the historic fabric of K Rd. They can enhance a network of pedestrian movement or activate a once-dead stretch of street. They can offer refuge from noise, wind, rain; or a new spot to sit and rest in the sun and have a coffee.
Or they can simply delight the passerby with some undefinable magic; for instance, I hope the colourful folding facade of Freemans Bay School radiates the joy of young learning going on within.
What is your inspiration in this new world order?
New Zealand's approach to the pandemic exemplifies the most basic human ethic of looking after people first. I was inspired by our leadership in this crisis.
Translated to the architectural world, some of the northern European architects, like Dutch firm MVRDV, are showing leadership by advocating cities and buildings that put people first.
Nicole was once a client of Trinity Design but now brings her business acumen — as former CEO of an IT company — to steering the team to deliver intelligent, enduring and stylish outcomes.
What have you learned from lockdown?
I really appreciated our home office which I had to myself as my husband was an essential worker. This made it easier to maintain a work/life balance. I loved the daily walks with the children and the dog which also kept us connected with neighbours — albeit from a distance.
Business-wise lessons learned from the GFC allowed us to be agile. All of our systems are cloud based so having the team work remotely whilst still having access to all information was crucial. A number of our projects are outside of Auckland or New Zealand so in a sense it was business as usual.
How will things change in your industry?
The landscape is evolving, with some tightening of teams but this means an opportunity for more collaboration between architects, designers and builders as each focuses on their strengths rather than spreading themselves too thin — a positive outcome for a client.
It's also exciting to more fully explore local product. We have so many artisans with amazing capabilities! Some of our overseas clients and industry contacts now want to base themselves in New Zealand permanently or for longer periods. Other clients are redirecting travel funds into their homes or see the chance to start projects while interest rates are low and builders more available.
How does design create a sense of meaning?
People need to be surrounded by things that make them feel secure and "at home", whether that's pieces bought on travels — like a rug that reminds them of an adventure — or art that truly speaks to them.
Our clients are now more inclined to want to invest in quality over quantity and are looking seriously at sustainability. They are deeply involved in the process from concept to completion, which gives them a sense of pride and meaning.
During lockdown what became your new inspiration?
We had the time to watch the Dezeen Virtual Design Festival which incorporated a number of live design talks with world-class architects and designers, and we were invited by local suppliers to virtual material selections rather than getting out and about.