College Hill rising: episode II in our construction drama

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Construction – finally – at College Hill.

Construction – finally – at College Hill. Image: Matter

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Timber framing within a steel structural frame.

Timber framing within a steel structural frame. Image: Matter

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Construction – finally – at College Hill.

Construction – finally – at College Hill. Image: Matter

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The slab is laid at College Hill.

The slab is laid at College Hill. Image: Matter

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Prepping the site.

Prepping the site. Image: Matter

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The driveway goes in.

The driveway goes in. Image: Matter

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Resource consent in hand, Jonathan Smith from Auckland architecture practice Matter, turns his attention to the building consent for the house and boutique office project currently underway on College Hill in Auckland. 

After the tremendous lesson in patience provided by the council during the Resource Consent processing, we entered into the construction documentation stage of the project.

The big toys out on site. Image:  Matter

We were trying to create a more spacious boutique office building as well as get carparking on site. Pedestrians on College Hill were currently being squashed between a four lane road and imposing, protected, building facades lining the small pavement area and we thought of ways to make this footpath more people-friendly. Although we had permission to remove the existing bungalow we needed to ensure the new building was of the same dimensions of what had previously existed. The old structure was set back 1.8 metres from the street front access boundary and ran the width of the site, making carparking problematic.

The other potential problems were that the existing villa was over the height in relation to boundary recession planes making any alteration to the external envelop a potential additional Resource Consent issue. Also, since the existing structure was one and a half storeys on the north elevation and almost three on the south, inside had a dark depressive feeling so we wanted to create light and space in the new building.

Here’s how we solved it. We proposed a steel skeleton to provide all structural and bracing requirements for the new building. The skeleton will stay exposed on the inside, so the exterior walls, in effect, just clip on. This has also allowed us to reconfigure the floor levels and gain an extra level within the building. We carved a void through the front façade for parking at the back of the property. This also has the added benefit of providing a bit of relief to the solid streetscape and reconnecting College Hill to the site and old historic river bed valley to the south of the property.

After implementing these ideas and completing the Building Consent documentation we wanted to believe that after fighting through the Resource Consent processing, obtaining the Building Consent would be a straight forward scenario. Writing this now, makes me think of the quote attributed to Albert Einstein - “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

We certainly had our share of complications with the processing of the Building Consent, championed by a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of what we were trying to achieve throughout the entire processing, supported by a dismissive system. We soldiered on and received approval with sanity intact. The next morning we all had very bad headaches, of a self inflicted nature, a nice contrast to the usual cause…

Altering the environment with any built form deserves professional consideration, especially in a country with landscapes like New Zealand’s. The current consenting system encourages standardisation rather than innovation without accountability, a problematic combination when ensuring professional principals while dealing with commercial realities. Knowing this should not discourage anyone from taking on this challenge, but rather encourage a redefining of the system itself.

The College Hill site. Image:  Matter

As we begin digging up the earth on site and the building starts to rise before us, all the previous issues and delays dissolve into the excitement of knowing what we are creating has not been compromised, fulfilling it’s true potential and hopefully becoming an asset to ourselves, the community, and environment.

Some of the background: This story wishes to follow a construction project on College Hill designed by Jonathan Smith from Matter, an Auckland-based architecture firm. As well as seeing the project take shape, Smith will discuss the issues around blanket restrictions placed on sites throughout Auckland, how this effects developments in Auckland, the community, and the ordeal of working with council to obtain approval for a development with integrity. We’ll also see a cool building at the end of it.

If you missed the first article in the series, go here.


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