Auckland architect Lisa Webb of Studio LWA wasn’t going to enter her own house in the 2021 Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects Architecture Awards, because it didn’t feel like an award-winning house: “It’s just our house – a modest build on a tiny infill site”.
But it’s just as well she changed her mind, because the Westmere house has gone on to win the Sir Ian Athfield Award for Housing.
Webb is in good company. Also announced on December 9 are the winners of the Sir Miles Warren Award for Commercial Architecture – Cheshire Architects for The Hotel Britomart – and the John Scott Award for Public Architecture, which won by Warren and Mahoney Architects for the Christchurch Town Hall (see photos and videos below).
But back to Lisa Webb – she designed Our House to fit a usable land site of 232 square metres – the other 100 square metres (approx) is the driveway. The NZIA jury said it is “an inspirational window into what the future of Auckland could look like”.
The size of the section was daunting for the family. Webb says she, her husband and two children, had been renting a “massive house on a massive section” across the road, and when she first took her daughter (then 10, now 14) to the new site, she burst into tears at the prospect of squeezing in there.
And it’s what she has managed to do with those 232 square metres that astounded the jury.
“Considerate of its surroundings and honestly grappling with multiple layers of local body rules and covenants, Our House has been designed with minute attention to detail, and not a single inch is wasted.”
Webb describes her house as “a modern interpretation of the bungalows that surround us in Westmere”.
“The California bungalow is an old-fashioned house type; a discreet, formal, but asymmetric building. The porch faces the street, but there is an interior world hidden behind it.
“I like the disparity between the outside face and the inside one. The outside tries to fit in. The inside is more complex, darker, more dramatic. It was fun to explore these ideas with our own home.”
The NZIA jury praised the interior’s “deceptively simple volumes that cleverly overlap and interconnect, each with a sense of generosity beyond their compact dimensions”.
Webb has also played with the way the light comes into the house, positioning windows so the natural light best highlights “an exquisite interior”. But the jury said it wasn’t just about looks.
“As well as being beautiful, this home works hard. Natural light falls from skylights that pull air through it in summer; solar panels provide heating in winter; warm timbers were sourced from cyclone-felled trees; and the crisp brick exterior is designed to be low-maintenance and long-lasting.
“This is a deftly planned project that warms the spirit, and demonstrates a fresh model for the humble family bungalow.”
Webb says she was very surprised to receive the award. “I didn’t expect to put it up against all those fabulous houses on all those fabulous sites.”
But she acknowledges there is a need for quality infill housing and affordable housing for the next generation. “As architects, we have a part to play in finding solutions.”
The Hotel Britomart
Cheshire Architects’ 5 Green Star-rated hotel in Tāmaki Makaurau, which won the Sir Miles Warren Award for Commercial Architecture was praised by the jury for the way it “interfaces gracefully with adjacent heritage architecture, creating intricate spatial experiences for those who move through this building and the laneway it creates”.
“The hotel is a place of discovery and delight – from the architects’ reinvention of the hotel room into something clever and unusual yet luxurious, to the seamless integration of its thoughtful exterior with a rich and sumptuous materiality within.”
Cheshire Architects says the design response was to create a hotel that feels as if it belongs to the people of Aotearoa, not just the guests who stay.
The exterior of the 10-storey hotel is clad in handmade clay bricks that reference the adjacent heritage buildings in the precinct. “The flush-glazed windows were detailed and arranged as contemporary insertions in the rough-hewn clay walls.
Architect Dajian (DJ) Tai of Cheshire Architects talks about the Britomart project and receives the Sir Miles Warren Award on behalf of the team.
“Within the brick mass, the 99 typical rooms feel like softly lit cabins.”
Christchurch Town Hall
Warren and Mahoney Architects took the John Scott Award for Public Architecture for the Christchurch Town Hall, recently restored after the devastating Canterbury earthquakes rendered it unusable.
The award recognises the immense effort made to bring the building back to life – it had been destined for demolition.
The complex now includes a substantial annex for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, as well as improved accessibility, occupant safety, flexibility and upgraded technology.
“This ambitious project guided wholly by the principle of ‘do as little as possible, but as much as necessary’ has seen a small army of architects, engineers and contractors working closely together in the most trying conditions,” the jury noted.
Peter Marshall of Warren and Mahoney talks about the significance of the Christchurch Town Hall to the community.
“The architects have shown leadership, sensitivity and intelligence in bringing this building back to life with the finest level of care and detail – slavish in some areas and bold in others – breathing new joy into this important building.
“Built around one of the country’s best rooms, the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium (also known as the ‘living room of Christchurch’), this town hall complex is now perhaps better than it ever was, and stands as testament to the power of architecture and the importance of culture.”