Pip Cheshire. Picture / Rob Trathen

At the Heart of a City

Leading Auckland architect Pip Cheshire discusses the importance of good design and the key to inner-city living

Auckland epicureans will no doubt have found themselves admiring Cheshire Architects’ designs. The company, headed by father and son architects Pip and Nat Cheshire are responsible for the fitouts of some of Auckland’s coolest bars and restaurants — from Britomart’s Pavilions area, to Cafe Hanoi and Shortland St’s newest addition, Pilkingtons. They’re also adding zeitgeisty flair to the city’s retail, work and cultural areas, from Queen St’s Q Theatre to the City Works Depot. Their latest project finds them at the forefront of the green-living trend, giving character buildings a stylish second life. The new SKHY apartments at 5 Hohipere St will offer stunning loft-like living and trendy commercial spaces — with spectacular views. Redeveloped from the historic Eden House, the design blends the old with the new, pairing exposed concrete beams with soft plasters and high-quality fittings. Viva spoke to Pip about his thoughts on design and the key to great inner-city living.

What was your vision for the SKHY project?

This is urban acupuncture — building on the skeleton of a once proud building; paring it back to better reveal its strengths and making small insertions to create an outstanding urban environment. We are reinforcing the street edge at Khyber Pass, using new work spaces to form a lane into a sheltered garden square at street level then linking through to Hohipere and Symonds streets to form a dense matrix of uses that will mix those living and working at SKHY and those passing through. Above it all the living spaces look out over the city, the isthmus, and the Waitemata and Manukau harbours.

What was the building like beforehand?

A fine robust structure on a stunning site. All the best, and the worst, of the 1970s, with an accretion of more recent additions needing a bit of pruning.

What do you know about its history?

It was [building manufacturer] Winstone’s national headquarters, a brave comprehensive development of offices, retail mall and bar all located in a part of the city that has been the centre of the company’s activities since the city was founded.

What challenges/restrictions did you come up against during the project?

The building is surrounded by council-protected volcanic sightlines that mean the views are prohibited from being built out. We shaped our new lower buildings on Khyber Pass around those same controls and used them to generate interesting building geometry and lively sightlines. The very robust concrete frame easily meets seismic requirements, and drawing out the building’s possibilities to make a great city place is a process of careful analysis and reductive editing, with few restraints.

Why is it important to reuse old buildings?

Making use of an existing building has to be the best use of resources. The retention of this building as a marker at the top of Symonds St and Khyber Pass is one of those elements that help us navigate the geography and the history of the city — though reconfigured it will carry the memory of its Winstone heritage.

Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to renovating an old building such as this one?

The project is founded on the principles of sustainable reuse, urban enrichment and the repair of abused bits of the city — this is our goal. The strategies are known: a cyclical process of research, analysis, proposal and critique. The values are those of an emergent Auckland: interaction, informality and excellence.

Which cities do this particularly well?

We take our lessons from whomever does it well — Curitiba, New York, Lagos, Medellin, Barcelona and a hundred other cities.

What makes a vibrant, healthy city in your opinion?

The density of activity and occupation are critical, the layering of human endeavour that fills the streets, squares, cafes, markets and shops, playing fields, gyms, harbours and beaches. It is the great theatre of life and a city that celebrates this and uses buildings to create the squares, streets, lanes and open spaces that encourage such interaction are the great cities of the world.

How would you define good design?

Meeting the practical requirements of a project is vital, but the very least we should aim for. The making of buildings, and the space between buildings, that promote and amplify Auckland’s commercial, social and recreational life is the real project — doing that while being mindful of our climate, history and rich cultural mix is well on the way to good design.

Inner-city living is for what sort of people?

All sorts of people — it is the rich mixing of ages, genders and cultures that is making Auckland a great city.

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