Britomart – New Architectural Landmark for Aucklan
8 July 2003
Britomart – New Architectural Landmark for Auckland
“Good art gives the viewer a wonderful surprise: you can hear them gasp. When we previewed Britomart to some clients several weeks ago, it had exactly that effect on them.” Co-Designer and Jasmax Team Leader – Greg Boyden, Director of Jasmax
Architect Greg Boyden says Britomart marks the beginning of something very significant for the city. “You won’t recognise Auckland in four to five years,” says the Jasmax Director. “Because of Britomart, we’ll have a public transport system that works.”
He says Britomart is the transport heart of Auckland city. It is also the physical hub of the Central Business District (CBD) and a brilliant new urban focus for Aucklanders – where people can relax, meet, eat, watch, and go to and from the city in comfort.
Britomart is also a driver for the major regeneration of adjacent downtown real estate; and a salute to history via the preservation of Auckland’s majestic 1912 Chief Post Office (CPO) building. It is designed to excite Aucklanders.
“The sense of natural light, the geological features such as the volcanic skylights we’ve put into the station, and the way the development creates a sense of place – of Auckland and the Pacific – these are the things that will make Britomart special,” says Greg.
He says the building was first and foremost an engineering feat, then a huge architectural challenge to bring a icon to life.
“There were so many practical issues from an engineering perspective; how to build 12 metres underground, and 10 metres below the level of high tide? The architecture became the icing on a hidden engineering cake. The architecture is achieved by working with all engineering requirements, and we’ve done it through space, volume and light,” he comments. “The scale and proportion of the series of spaces will make this a building the whole of New Zealand will love passionately.”
The architects involved in Britomart were a partnership between Californian Mario Madayag and Jasmax. Up to 25 architects worked on the project at its height. Greg and Mario were at the apex of a challenging and satisfying collaboration. Mario Madayag had won the first stage of a design competition when he decided to team up with Jasmax. Together, Mario and Jasmax (led by Greg) won the second stage, by delivering detail in seven design boards to the judges.
“Mario saw Auckland with new eyes. He had just come from working on the Getty Museum,” says Greg. “I had worked in London for nearly six years, but had strong kiwi roots and both Mario and I were determined to make this a building that could compete at an international level.”
Greg describes a unique process the two went through, building model after cardboard model, and adding and taking away.
“It was iterative and incremental,” he says. “It was collaborative and satisfying. Together, with the team behind us, we’re proud to have created a landmark.”
A structured team working out of the Jasmax building at the top of Queen Street, divided the job into three parts: the CPO as a building, the streetscapes (environments surrounding the CPO), and the station itself (underground). Each of the units had a senior architect heading it up; then the team was divided again with further architects responsible for East, Middle and West sections. There was a weekly team meeting and each building area was reported upon and discussed by the architects in charge.
In addition, a weekly project control meeting (including Auckland City Council representatives, project managers, engineers and architects) kept the focus practical, consistently testing concepts and looking at detail.
As part of the competition rules, a process of review was set up to keep the design true to the original.
”The early designs vision was definitely robust,” Greg says. “We’re still referring to it now, with only a few changes.”
The design features of Britomart (including Queen Elizabeth (QE) Square and small streets adjacent) include:
- The inside of the CPO has been extensively refurbished. The floor has been dropped 1.5 metres, so that visitors can enter on ground level. (They enter through doors on East and West, rather than up the main CPO stairs). The elaborate columns in the ‘banking chamber’ of the CPO have had their feet exposed – steel feet, which have been enclosed in glass. The fine stained glass ceiling domes have been cleaned and restored; the Victorian tiles on the floor have been renovated.
- The ground floor entry is a large open area, including large windows and atrium. Light floods in.
- A ‘glass house’ atrium that connects the old CPO with the station platforms. The glass house extends over the escalators as they descend and floods the area in light. Built with a steel frame over which extends thousands of small louvres (that let in air), the effect is to make the area ‘flutter’ as if with wings, or feathers or scales.
- Artist Michael Parekowhai also collaborated on the design team, including on a massed garden of sculpted silver bark trees – stainless steel poles evoking trees such as totara, kauri and other natives and their unique sculptural bark. The garden of stainless steel bark trees surrounds the escalators.
- Basalt walls have been used throughout the inside of the CPO, including areas where water is flowing down. Basalt is a volcanic rock that has been used extensively in Auckland’s early architecture e.g. the base of the Town Hall.
- In the station, there are 11 architectural ‘volcanic cones’ suspended over the area. They bring natural light into the Station itself, and echo Auckland’s volcanic cones. People walking above will eventually be able to see down these cones and into the activity of the station.
- The streetscapes outside the CPO and station have been themed, styled and fashioned with Auckland’s geology in mind. Pop jet fountains have been used throughout, echoing the sea which once flowed under the Britomart building site; sculptural stainless steel pipis are laid out in a grid pattern; sand coloured pavers have been used. Eighteen real Kauri trees, between five and six metres tall, have been placed in the square and are dramatically uplit, all recalling the past landscape of Auckland.
- In the centre of QE square there will also be a fire boulder. This is a basalt rock selected and carved by Ngati Whatua, with water running down their sides, bathed in red light and with fire in the middle. For Ngati Whatua, the fire and the rock are significant. They symbolise settlement on Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland): the stronger the settlement, the stronger the fire.