We were at a three-year-old’s birthday party at the Grey Lynn Community Centre one Sunday last year when Hannah spotted a brick wall and a sign for Oli Booth Architecture at the end of the carpark behind a pōhutukawa. “What’s that?” she asked.
I rang Oli the next day. “Oh, that’s Pete’s,” he said. “It’s a great story.” Pete had decided to return from Vanuatu after 20 years to find Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s property prices way out of control. Eventually his daughter Kate and her husband Paul decided Pete should build a house on the back of their section, with access out onto a lane. It’s a difficult site, in a character zone, bordered by a public carpark, the pedestrian lane and a neighbour on one side.
Designing in this unevenly shaped corner was no mean feat. Getting a house here meant building fire walls with no windows on three boundaries, and slotting a 52-square-metre house into the awkward frame without making those spaces feel strange. Oli’s solution is elegant, clear-eyed and light-filled.
When the rōpū saw his entry into the Here Awards at our very first meeting, the house hadn’t been shot – we had a couple of iPhone images, a blurb and a plan. When we went to visit, the cabinetry wasn’t finished; Pete’s TV sat in front of the hot-water cylinder. It’s the direct opposite of what I suggest architects do when entering.
None of that mattered a jot – not when you could see the elegance of the plan and the way the space felt, and you realised what Oli, Pete, Kate and Paul had achieved in this funny little corner of Grey Lynn. As we considered it, we realised it was the best thing we’d seen so far that week: it had brains, heart and a cracking design.
For this reason and many more, I loved judging the Here Awards this year – our third year! As well as Pete’s, we saw some beautiful single housing and a fantastic community development in Manukau, clad in a singular skin of terracotta tiles. There was luxury and art, beautiful homes with great views, and there were houses which had achieved wondrous things in the narrowest of confines.
Thank you to our rōpū – Sarosh Mulla, Kristina Pickford and Caro Robertson – for their great humour, patience and thoughtful approach. And thank you to our sponsors, Città, Blum and Resene – and Hyundai, our vehicle partner.
I sincerely hope you enjoy reading about these projects as much as we enjoyed visiting them – and I hope you find them uplifting. Because I sure did.