The saga of building

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Jonathan Smith's project was finally granted Resource Consent straight after the house was 'bombed' or painted by street artists.

Jonathan Smith’s project was finally granted Resource Consent straight after the house was ‘bombed’ or painted by street artists. Image: Jon Smith

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With custom paint job.

With custom paint job. Image: Jon Smith

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This story wishes to follow a construction project on College Hill in Auckland, owned and designed by myself, an architect at Matter. Follow the highs and lows ( blanket restrictions, the ordeal of working with council) of trying to create a piece of architecture with integrity, to budget in a timely fashion.

The Purchase & Potential
This story begins in May 2008 when I walked past a property for sale on College Hill. The bungalow was a dilapidated transient building, previously renovated in various ill-conceived styles. One might say it looked as though two clowns from different eras had smashed head-on. After some research it seemed that although most people had either lived in this building at one time, or knew of its jester like appearance, it was a relationship that did not inspire care, maintenance, or thoughts of commercial viability.

The site was zoned Residential 1, a blanket zoning which designated the building to be of a certain historical significance and value, and requiring that any alteration work obtain a Resource Consent from council. Blankets are usually employed as a source of comfort and security, the weakness with such systems is that they tend to hide the subtlety and variations in anything they cover, inevitably deforming the original context and in this case, undermining the security they were meant to provide.

Before. Image:  Jon Smith

We couldn’t quite see the historical significance of this property as clearly as council, especially after close inspection found that the existing structure could not be saved. However we bought the property anyway. I believe it was the bespoke paint job employing certain shades of aqua marine that finally sold us…

We completed our concept design research taking into account the brief and surrounding context, after which we were faced with two options on how to proceed.

Option one was the path of least resistance, demolishing the bastardised bungalow to replace it with a pastiche, unauthentic reproduction of its former self. The upside to this option would have been the ease with which council would have processed the consent, saving money on site, and a huge amount of time. The downside to this option was that the design would lack integrity and merit, not address the site conditions or modern requirements, and would not engage with the community and city of Auckland in general. From a theoretical perspective option two was the opposite of the above. It would involve demolishing the existing structure, re-connecting with the authentic history of the bungalow, interpreting the new built form sympathetically to this history, and making sure that the property’s use, position, and situation were appropriately considered for all involved. This was the option we chose to pursue. We have completed many projects in this zoning and are experienced with the expectations and procedures involved with obtaining a Streamlined Resource Consent from council, and therefore knew we would have a fight to achieve this type of proposal.

The Resource Consent
Council struggled with interpreting both our design and the district plan. When I say struggled, it took them 13 months to decide on whether to grant the Resource Consent or not. Interestingly enough the Empire State Building took around 13 months to construct. Throughout this challenging epoch, various states of mental breakdown were experienced. The building had been bought in such a bad condition that it could not be rented, making time of the essence to obtain approval. Council took this into account during their processing by issuing us with a notice to clean up our property or be fined and taken to court. Ironic considering they were stopping us from completing exactly that.

At around month 12 of processing our frustration was reaching uncharted territory, with some very dark scenarios involved. Council seemed rather fond of our vacant decaying building and didn’t want to decide on, or commit to our proposal. At that point we thought we should spruce the building up a bit and make it more engaging for the community, so we organised some exceptional street artists to paint (bomb) the entire building inside and out. We received the approved Resource Consent the next week.

The new paint job engaged the community so much that people were coming through the building in droves. We discussed the potential of council using the building as an art piece in a park, but ended up donating most of it to random passers by. It was unfortunate that a decaying building, detracting from the community would be protected by council, whereas an engaging reuse of the same property was something to remove.

We made various objections to council regarding the handling of our consent which they eventually agreed with, rewarding us with a refund of all fees charged, around $17,000.

Keep reading as construction finally begins on Jonathan Smith’s project.

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