Nation
Building

An Article
by
John Coop
03–02–11

Architects learn from infancy to believe that we can legitimately apply our minds and our practice to the design of every element of the world we live in. Our peers in related design professions sometimes mistakenly interpret this as arrogance or worse, naivety, whereas we simply maintain the value of our design influence at every scale.

The more influential Architects of the 20th Century and the Modern era laid out manifestos on urban and city planning, and often also worked with innovative Engineers to apply the new technologies to the design of infrastructure. Aalto’s Sunila Cellulose Factory, Scotts Battersea and Bankside Powerstations (now the Tate Modern), and Eero Saarinen’s Dulles Airport01 are each examples of integration of architecture and engineering – a long tradition nurtured by Architect-Engineers during the industrial revolution. Each also achieve a clear expression in form and structure of the process being housed and the construction technology being applied.

Set against the Puritanism of the more popular elements of the environmental counter-argument, Architects, forever optimistic, have relished  the super-scale opportunities the 21st Century has presented. The audacity and brilliance of Foster’s Millau Viaduct  and Piano’s Kansai Airport02 are each examples that have captured the global imagination, reinforcing that man-made simple ideas beautifully executed can work in harmony with their natural or in Kansai’s case its constructed context.

In North Otago the colonial settlers were not concerned with roadside setbacks, unapologetically bringing their stone Millhouses, Warehouses, and Breweries hard against the road edge.

New Zealand’s landscape deserves similarly optimistic and confident expression in the design and technology of the infrastructure we place within it. Infrastructure is also public - part of our public realm. Projects often stand or fall in the court of public opinion, or in areas that are not necessarily strictly measurable or manageable. Communicating a clear design vision to the community to overcome negative preconceptions both visually and also through a compelling design strategy is vital.

We are now actively involved in the design of a range of infrastructural projects. New Zealand’s historical social and economic development has always involved the design of infrastructure. It’s a powerful story worth a review alongside our current work.

In North Otago the colonial settlers were not concerned with roadside setbacks, unapologetically bringing their stone Millhouses, Warehouses, and Breweries hard against the road edge.

The railway and electricity infrastructure of the interwar period  required the application of new technologies at a scale previously not imagined. Some contemporary New Zealand artists took inspiration from this development. Here we see Doris Lusk identifying the civic potential of infrastructure – the power station as the new Town Hall. There are also questions posed. The ranges look on from a distance at the imposition in the foreground. Can we achieve a partnership with the landscape?

In 1960 WB Sutch, an influential Government adviser published  “Colony or Nation”, essentially a manifesto advocating for the use of modern technology to convert New Zealand’s natural resources for economic benefit.

From this grew a school of thought that eventually evolved fifteen years later in to “Think Big”. Along the way the Manapouri scheme03 was proposed instigating, thankfully, the successful fight for that environment. This fight –characterised by the Environmentalists as a war - in many ways polarised the community however in its attitude toward infrastructural development. We still live with this legacy.

The Engineers and Architects of the Ministry of Works certainly thrived however throughout the 1970s, designing vast projects across the land including the upper Waitaki Power Scheme04 – an heroic tremendously expensive but valuable exercise in nation-building. Thirty years later the scheme’s canals, penstocks and power houses have lost none of their sculptural impact – perhaps only in the Mckenzie Country could their scale be essentially lost?

Art provides a critical eye in the 1990s – this time through the Photography of the then emerging architectural photograher Patrick Reynolds05; now a frequent collaborator of Warren and Mahoney.  The pipes and powerhouses of the Waikato and the Central Plateau feature in a photo essay that challenges us. What we see depends on how we look.

Public architecture can be seen as social infrastructure; with the associated responsibility to be secure and enduring; conceived in the interests of public good to be beyond style.

Public architecture can be seen as social infrastructure; with the associated responsibility to be secure and enduring; conceived in the interests of public good to be beyond style. In the late 1990s Warren and Mahoney, in Association with Bligh Lobb Sport, designed Wellington Stadium and it remains a point of reference for us in our infrastructure work. It is simple and sculptural in both its architecture and engineering. The Wellington community loves it. They know how it works, how its made and what it’s made of.

More recently we decided to become involved in infrastructure work, and we were invited to contribute to the design of a range of large scale energy, viticulture, and industrial projects, including a thermal powerstation and a cement factory. As Architects we see tend to see things differently and this enables us to perhaps ask the same questions but in different ways than say Process Engineers, Planners, or Project Managers.

We have become convinced that we can bring design insight to the broad spectrum of infrastructural projects now underway in New Zealand and our infrastructure portfiolio has now grown to include a collection of pedestrian and road bridge concepts and projects. In this work we have enjoyed designing in collaboration with Holmes Consulting and Boffa Miskell, sometimes individually, and also together as a team. Generating strong work together is always the most satisfying, and even more so when a body of work is created over time and an understanding is developed.

Our bridge work began with a collaboration with Holmes Consulting  in a design for  the ill-fated Te Wero Bridge competition. Nevertheless we were a shortlisted finalist, through Shannon Joe - now a Principal in our Auckland studio - developing a strong concept in concert with Rewi Thompson.

Our urban design and architecture work with Boffa Miskell has more recently included a commission acting as Architects to NZTA’s Victoria Park Tunnel Project. The Jacobs Ladder Footbridge forms part of this commission. The brief called for a low-profile enclosed pedestrian bridge spanning 15 lanes of traffic.  We set out to design a form that at speed and from a distance would be legible whilst at the same time provide a rich memorable experience for pedestrians on above and below the bridge. A simple four-sided box truss structure is clad in a more complex but related cladding system. The geomtery of this cladding is integrated with the set-out of the trusses, being triangular, faceted, and four-sided. A bronze coloured pattern developed by an art collaborative is applied to the cladding along its entire length and will form a 100 metre long public artwork hovering over the roadway.

In late 2010 we were invited by Don Miskell to collaborate with Michael Newby from Holmes Consulting in a design competition  to design  a new Gateway to Christchurch in the form of a grade separation bridge project. With this team my Co Director Andrew Barclay along Dean McKenzie and Blair Johnston developed a simple and compelling idea.

The double-strand arched structure was devised for its symbolic power but also for its structural lightness and efficiency. Constructed in concrete-filled steel casing, all elements of the bridge can be fabricated by known technologies within New Zealand without imported expertise or componentry. The result will be a solution which balances cost with sculptural clarity and power.

The project will be a powerful gateway symbol for Christchurch and the South Island of New Zealand forming part of the future identity of the City. The design will be highly legible from both directions of vehicular travel – on Memorial Avenue and State Highway 1 – thereby providing a dramatic portal for all travellers. This is achieved by having the bridge’s structure obliquely cross SH 1 in a clear arc which is equally powerful from all points of view.

Importantly, the alignment of the stabilising arch responds formally to the processional Memorial Avenue axis, creating order from the non-perpendicular intersection alignment and ensuring that the dynamic form of the bridge is able to present an appropriate and respectful response to this avenue, created and named as a memorial to fallen WWII servicemen.

We were excited to be successful in winning this competition, which has now led to a further invitation to participate with a consortium in the design of an exciting opening bridge project over the Whangarei River.

These design projects have firmly established Warren and Mahoney’s interest and capability in collaborating on infrastructure design projects, beyond the traditional boundaries and typologies of our work. Interdisciplinary collaboration, our strategic and insight led processes, and finally the talent and intelligence of our design team lies at the heart of the success we are enjoying.

01

Dulles Airport under Construction. Image courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

02

1988–94 (Competition, 1988)
Kansai International Airport Passenger Terminal Building
Osaka, Japan
Photo by Kawatetsu

03

Drawing by Sir Charles Fleming (courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library A-304-006)

04

Photographs courtesy of John Coop.

05

Photographs courtesy of Patrick Reynolds Photography.

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