Early adopters usually operate on the edge of reason, bringing rational argument to a framework that has only just shifted. Architects Hamish Monk and Dean Mackenzie knew the deal. When they were commissioned for this mixed-use commercial/apartment development in Herne Bay on what can genuinely be described as one of the most elite ridgelines in Auckland, they understood the stakes were high. With the new zoning, the jump in scale from one- and two-storey villas to a five-level building no doubt ruffled some feathers. The challenge was on to craft a precedent that the neighbourhood would accept (perhaps even embrace) and, as Hamish puts it, “offer a graceful form – not just an echo of constraints”.
Liam Joyce and Sophie Wylie are not your average developers. Liam, whose dad was a builder, has an engineering and project management background, while Sophie is an architectural designer. Their company, Artifact, specialises in the boutique and bespoke and, when investing in this 507-square-metre site on Jervois Road, they wanted more of the same: just eight apartments that made a statement, but not too much of one.
The Monk Mackenzie team, well versed in conversations with council, went in to bat for a plan that pushed the building as close to the street-side southern boundary as possible. This creates more space to the north to capitalise on the sun and the money-shot view of the sea, while simultaneously keeping within the shading regulations. On the east and west elevations, where villas butt up to the boundary, they suggested they lift the apartment block on fine cruciform columns, so the character homes on each side had room to breathe. A vertical bite out of the plan, both to the east and west, served to break up the façade, while creating a pocket courtyard in each apartment to bring light and views to the core. While the development pushes the boundaries of what went before, the planning principles are sound. “Our thinking was based around current and future context,” says Hamish. “In the longer term, the building will be part of the grain of the built fabric and not just look like a reaction to the neighbourhood.”
What many locals only know of the architecture is, of course, the frontage – in particular, an undulating aluminium screen set within a robust geometric shell. This is a building that makes no apologies, and the screen is a bold design move. But it is also a generous one, giving back in ways those passing by may never think of. Since it made sense to locate the bedrooms to the south, the screen provides privacy for occupants and unifies the way the façade is expressed to the street. Instead of a hodgepodge of open and closed blinds and curtains, it waves sinuously across the windows, a thing of sculptural strength. “For residents, it’s not just a two-dimensional experience,” says Dean. “It was based on the notion of the bay window.” Occupants can pull open the sound-proof sliding doors and step out onto a tiny platform behind the screen. All at once they are immersed in the auditory melange of this busy arterial route.
The urban/suburban divide is evident indoors where the living zones are grouped to the north. Enter the building, simply named Jervois, and all is suddenly calm. A four-metre reeded glass door to the lobby swings open to reveal natural stone floors and a graceful but modern stairway (lifts are pushed almost out of view to the rear). Opposite the front door of each apartment is that pocket garden – a gift of greenery and, on the higher levels, an aperture filled with a slice of the city. “It gives the entrance a sense of space, a connection to place and demarcates the public and private zones of the apartments,” says Dean.
While this is certainly an arresting moment of design, it isn’t long before the senses are captured by the northern aspect, out across the rooftops to the harbour and the orange splash of the Chelsea Sugar Factory buildings on the opposite shore. Lofty studs, full-height glazing and frameless glass sliders that can close off the balconies from the weather seem to dial up the volume on this classic view. Those in the upper storeys and the penthouse enjoy a sweep of the Harbour Bridge as part of the array.
Wylie and interior designer Amelia Holmes worked on the palette of the 155-square-metre (give or take) apartments, using wide-plank French oak flooring, honed marble tiles in the bathrooms and kitchens with natural slate benchtops and timber veneer finishes. It’s all elegantly organic and low-key: an understated response to a backdrop that is deserving of the spotlight. Now, more people will get to experience it as part of their day-to-day environment. On a ridgeline designated for intensification, multi-level apartment buildings are set to become as integral to the landscape as the beloved plane trees that define the street. It’s good to believe they can co-exist in harmony.