Archive for the 'Blog' Category

THE STUDY & INFLUENCE OF CONTEXT

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

As chairperson of the Wanaka Urban Design Panel, it is frustrating to see proposals come past the panel that are designed as stand alone buildings without proper consideration of its neighbours let alone looking slightly further afield and responding to the character, scale and rhythm of the streetscape. I do not see how designers can start to design without examining the conditions that their proposals will sit among.  I am not suggesting that designers should copy their neighbour but some logic can be derived by the surrounding conditions. The shape and size of a tree in a forest will be influenced by the tree adjoining; the wind and availability of sunlight, it may not even be the same species to its neighbours but it will share some common influence and look part of the whole.

This is not limited to urban situations with suburban and rural sites needing to consider a much wider context. Natural influences such as wind sun topography and views can have more influence than the surrounding built forms. I continue to be involved in a design review service for local housing companies which is a great opportunity to examine the context and make the investment of a house much more than merely checking off a wish list of 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, open plan living and so on. Capturing a certain view, achieving privacy from the neighbours  or providing outdoor access to a sheltered court may not necessarily cost any more but make living in that building so much more enjoyable.

A recent example of this is a house built by Stonewood Homes of Wanaka. The result may not be highbrow architecture, but the spaces work well because we took the time to consider where the furniture would go and there is easy connection to an outdoor area that is private with great views, sun and shade from the west. The most pleasing aspect of this is that we managed to achieve this while maintaining the views of the ridgeline from Mt Roy back along Mt Alpha. The clients are happy that they have been delivered a well built house on budget and are happy they were prepared to take a little extra time to refine the proportions of the house and to consider how the plan worked internally and in the greater context.

Western Shade

Mt Alpha View


If the Italians had colonised Wanaka

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

I read in the Otago Daily Times that the Upper Clutha Environmental Society are appealing against a residential platform in Dublin Bay proposed by Annabel Langbein and Ted Hewetson.  While I applaud the efforts made by the Society to provide a check against unbridled development across the region, I do question the impact on amenity that this residence will have as there is already existing residential development and human activity is clearly etched into the landscape.  Personally I think Dublin Bay would be a great spot for further intensification into a compact village that enjoys the lakeside amenity while having little impact from other positions either around or on the Lake.

This raises the question ‘have we got the District Plan and Wanaka Structure Plan correct?’ The Structure Plan clearly defines Wanaka’s urban spread within the confines of the Clutha and Cardrona Rivers down to Hill End and up to Rippon. Any land outside of this area is zoned Rural, however residential activity in the guise of Lifestyle blocks is already peppering this landscape in a similar way that has occurred in the Wakatipu Basin. I doubt that either the Wakatipu or Upper Clutha basins will provide more than minor agricultural benefit to our communities within the next 20 years, a great loss of rich productive land.

If the Italians had settled the area they would not have allowed this to happen! They would cluster their urban centres around transport hubs such as rivers and lakes providing potable water and additional food source as well as providing amenity for social and leisure activities. Alternatively they would have settled on the foothills of the mountains, either way the land outside of these localised communities would remain productive.

A good example of this can be seen in the foothills of the Italian Alps around Lake Garda where the lake edge is dotted with clusters of communities that neither detract from the amenity of the lake nor the surrounding mountains. Other great examples can be seen throughout the coastline of Croatia, with fantastic dense communities such as Hvar and Korcula providing a beautiful social hub on the water edge and you only have to walk less than 5 minutes and you are in productive rural areas.

Lakes Wanaka and Hawea present many opportunities for clusters of communities around the waters edge that are visually separated from each other leaving a sense of openness within an natural landscape. If we intensified the original communities of Lake Hawea; Johns Creek; Hawea Flat; Alberttown; Lake Wanaka and Tarras along with new intensified communities at Dublin Bay, Glendu Bay and dare I say it Damper Bay, we could all enjoy the Lakes and Rivers, utilise the productive flat land while enjoying the rural amenity instead of living in a suburban blanket of individual landlocked plots.

If we all had a lake view and access to the waters edge within 5 minutes walk would we need to have a quarter acre private realm with green grass that requires mowing and irrigation?


Lake Dunstan House

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

I recently visited a project that I designed and documented as Director of my previous partnership to see how the house is settling into its environment. The owner has made good progress on the landscaping and external works which is often an area that gets neglected  as either the time, effort or money was not allowed for in the original project plan or budget.

This particular site has its challenges of cold and extreme wind conditions, so it is good to see robust planting to match the robust detailing of the external cladding and exterior courtyard.

Originally it was envisioned that both the Living and Bedroom wings be clad in schist and the separate garage be clad in corrugated iron. For reasons of budget and ensuring that the quality of stonework used was exceptional, the living wing was clad in schist and the bedroom wing and garage were clad in a plaster system in muted colours to satisfy the Central Otago district Council. The stonework by Southern Stonemasons has come up very well, a job well done.


Wanaka Town Centre Character Guideline

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

The Wanaka Town Centre Character Guideline was formally adopted by the QLDC Strategy Committee last Tuesday so it is now an operative document. Although it has no statutory standing it will inform future versions of the district plan particularly in terms of bulk and height limits within the town centre.

You can view the document at  http://www.qldc.co.nz/strategies_and_publications/category/612/

My hope is that it will help tie in all the QLDC capital expenditure in and around the town centre with a common language and quality of elements and materials. There are two recent examples of where this would have been beneficial but unfortunately has not been carried through by the council itself;

1)    Due to delays in the roundabout on Ardmore and Brownston Streets, the council shifted the budget to the burying of power cables along Brownston Street, which also required new light poles along Brownston Street. The Town Centre Character Guideline references timber light poles (the Wilson pole) in at least three sections noting the importance of consistency in fittings that are non-period specific. However the trend to expedite the now at the expense of the future prevailed as the community board approved the council’s proposal to use octagonal steel poles that the guideline had specifically identified as being phased out. The reason given was that the timber poles are more expensive but I believe the small number of lights needed that this would have been a minimal cost in the scheme of things and somehow QLDC found the budget for these as these timber light poles have been utilized along Frankton Road leading into Queenstown. How can the council expect developers to buy into a better quality environment for the town centre when they are not prepared to do it themselves?

2)    The second example is the controversial speed humps along lower Ardmore Street. These have been on the radar for some time after being fleshed out by the Transport Strategy and the Town Centre Strategy so there is no issue whether they should be there or not. The issue I have is that the Town Centre Strategy and the Guidelines both identified that there needs to be both a comprehensive masterplan and consistency of materials and design. Neither the masterplan nor standard detailed designs of raised pedestrian crossings have been completed.

The council may argue that the Character Guidelines were not complete when this work was scheduled but this work has been in the pipeline for some time and the council need to fully adopt them if they expect the private developers to follow. The guidelines and strategies developed by the council are great, the big challenge is getting the various council department heads down to the worker on the street to buy into this vision, quality outcomes have now joined the timelines and budgets with equal importance.


SustainaBULL

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The much used term ‘Sustainability’ has been a great driver for awareness of the resource and environmental issues that face current and future generations but I believe its misuse or overuse is starting to dilute not only what is possible but what we should all be doing.  Technically architecture (as we know it) is not a sustainable activity unless we can utilize renewable resources from within our  ‘fair earth share’ of ecological footprint, currently about 1.7 hectares per person on earth (see NZ Footprint project by Otago Polytechnic Centre for Sustainability).

This may be an impossible task but we need to seriously review how we build particularly in terms of embodied energy of materials, size of building for purpose, durability and adaptability. Sticking a solar panel on your house or marketing your existing building products under the label of ‘Future Proof Building’ does not make you sustainable.

For example; in the Houses (NZ) Winter 2011 magazine there is a feature on a new contemporary residence with a designers note that ‘’ Sustainability was also important, and the house utilizes solar hot water and rainwater recycling’’.  These are great things to do but this is for a single bedroom 200m2 house with full height glazing to about 70% of the exterior walls with air conditioning as a heat source.

Also the designers behind the new Wanaka Lakes Health Centre claim ‘sustainable design was a key consideration with approved green build materials and energy efficient services design…’  Sustainability doesn’t come into my mind when I view that the new building in effect is a large shed with a very deep floor plate (30 x 54 metres?) that relies on mechanical services and light .  There was so much scope to employ natural ventilation and lighting rather than rely on ‘energy efficient’ mechanical services; the costs in allowing openings within the plan would offset the costs for increasing the size of services to create an artificial environment and would have greatly reduced the running costs over the life of the building.

So the Sustainable banner comes out again and again but I think we need to try a little harder than this if we truly want to work within our limited resources whilst creating architecture that truely delights.


Wanaka Town Centre Guidelines

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Well it has been some time since I have made a Blog entry. My excuse is that not only do I have a hectic family life within this piece of paradise, I have been quite busy with changing from PC to Mac computers and completing a variety of projects ranging from landscape features, remodeling of older cribs; extensions to 1950’s brick houses and a new build residence designed to withstand a Design Wind speed of 216km/hour. I am really looking forward to several of these projects starting on site once temperatures warm up in the spring.

I have also been busy as a member of the Queenstown Lakes District Council steering group for the development of The Wanaka Town Centre Guidelines. The guidelines were contracted out to some urban designers from Auckland who traditionally produce very good work.  Unfortunately in this case they prepared a guideline that was very wordy with quite generic guidelines that didn’t demonstrate a local understanding of what makes Wanaka different. The steering group was quite disappointed, as we had hoped for something quite graphic and inspirational, instead we had abundance of words that were hard work to read through, let alone be inspirational.

After little progress with 4 drafts over a 6 month period QLDC took over the writing of the document and with the help of the local steering committee have produced a document that is specific to Wanaka and should help both building designers and developers produce good buildings that are sympathetic to the communities desires. I think it is a good demonstration that local knowledge is absolutely key, otherwise you will end up with a product that is not relevant no matter how clever the creators are.

Hopefully QLDC will look at bit closer to home in the future; there is good experience in Wanaka. The Guideline has been out for public comment and can be found on the QLDC website http://www.qldc.govt.nz/urban_design


Hill House

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

A precast concrete panel house designed to withstand a harsh sub alpine environment while making the most of passive solar gain and ventilation.


Proposed Penninsula Bay House for Stonewood Homes

Friday, September 17th, 2010


RURAL ZONING DISCUSSION DOCUMENT

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

The Queenstown Lakes District Council recently gave the community the opportunity to comment on the success of the current Rural Zoning. I am primarily concerned with the Rural Living Zones and in particular the Rural Residential Zone.

The district plan objective 8.1.1.i outlines that ‘’All Rural Zones have particular amenity and environmental values, which are important to rural people. These include privacy, rural outlook, spaciousness……’’

I do not believe that the Rural Residential Zone is achieving this objective, particularly as the bulk of Rural Residential Subdivisions are creating lots that are predominantly towards the minimum lot size (4,000m² to 4,500m²).

It would seem logical that the Rural Residential Zone exists to provide a buffer between suburban and rural areas, a halfway density that in some sense gives the appearance of an open rural area without necessarily allowing enough or using the land for agricultural/ horticultural production.

In the text following, I have quickly compiled some examples from Wanaka which demonstrate that the Rural Residential character is more suburban than rural, with most properties maximizing the house size and then constructing cheaper sheds and garages. Many of these areas appear more dense than the older township zoning of nearby Alberttown. As the built form dominates the landscape no amount of mitigation will reduce this (including controls on ‘gateways’ colour and soft landscaping). The majority of the examples shown below directly abut rural or reserve areas so in effect we have a suburban edge abutting our open space.

The above images are on Aubrey Road behind Mount Iron. Often the view is a constant line of houses with limited breaks between and few view-shafts beyond. Of note this area still has many building plots yet to be constructed upon.

The above images are at Clan Mac Road outside the outer growth boundary directly adjoining Rural land and highly visible from the State Highway.

Balneaves Road again outside the outer growth boundary directly adjoining Rural land and the state highway. The lots in the foreground are yet to be built upon so the density will increase.

A possible solution to these issues is to move away from 2 dwellings per hectare to 1 dwelling per hectare, i.e. away from a minimum of 4,000m² to 10,000m².
As an example of this below I have shown a rural residential property at the Northern side of Mount Iron with a lot size of 9,090m². This has allowed the rural character to remain and softens the edge to the reserve zone beyond. The property is large enough to graze several horses and has grapes to the rear.

This is a far more appropriate buffer against Rural General; Rural Lifestyle and open reserve land (DOC etc) than the density currently permitted by the Rural Residential Zoning.

Reviewing the density will have far more effect than trying to mitigate development by planting and materials/colours (although these can be successful). If you design the character of rural areas too much, it can become a bit precious and move away from the diversity that can be seen by rural living areas throughout the country.

As a region we have to look at intensification and consolidation of residential areas without this spilling over the rural landscape like a blanket. The current Rural Residential zone is currently allowing the later.


Back on Board

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

It has been awhile since I have made a post. Goggle stopped supporting my Blog format so now I have moved over to Word Press. I am in two minds as whether this page should be called a blog or maybe just comment/ news as the frequency may be erractic. I frequently have comments to post but are often focused on more important items at hand. I now have a moments reprise and the two week long inversion over Wanaka is finally lifting, so all is good.