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Otago Architects Take Nature-Inspired Fashion House to World

14 May 2014

Otago Architects Take Nature-Inspired Fashion House to World Stage

Architecture van Brandenburg are set to showcase the creative capability of Dunedin, New Zealand and Otago Polytechnic in Venice from 7 June to 23 November 2014.

The launch of the exhibition will be celebrated in Dunedin on Tuesday 27 May from 5.30pm – 7:00pm at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s ODT Gallery (speeches from 5.45pm).

Architecture van Brandenburg – led by Fred van Brandenburg and his sons Damien and Luca – were invited to exhibit their architecture and their extensive range of models for Marisfrolg’s new fashion headquarters, currently under construction in Shenzhen, China. This project is undertaken in their studios in Queenstown and Dunedin. Their exhibition, titled ‘Van Brandenburg – Unfurling’, will be held in the former Benedictine monastery of St. Apollonia, San Marco, now the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art.

The exhibition provides an opportunity for the architects, once better known for iconic New Zealand destinations including Millbrook and Wharekauhau Lodge, “to show my new direction which I compare to an unfurling fern – a fitting reference to the silver fern of New Zealand,” says Fred. “It’s also an appropriate analogy given that the entire progression happened in New Zealand mostly assisted by a talented team of young New Zealanders – graduates from Dunedin’s Otago Polytechnic.”

Fred van Brandenburg explains that his style of architecture has moved to a new nature-inspired theme.

Drawing upon the rich natural environment in New Zealand, van Brandenburg’s designs evoke references from leaves to birds in flight. “We are influenced by how nature has figured out a way to combat gravity, resulting in an emphasis on curvilinear forms.”

Fred was approached by Marisfrolg to create a 120,000 sqm fashion headquarters and he says he was given free rein. “They had no preconception of what they wanted. I stipulated that it would not be glass, marble, and chrome, but rather I would give them a design that would contain natural and recycled materials – stone, recycled bricks and ceramics; found materials that fit with our references to nature.”

The fashion headquarters are currently under construction, and expected to be completed by 2017. The complex comprises of a series of interlinking forms housing a catwalk, design studios, a boutique hotel, restaurants, fashion amenities and general administration, all set in a 4.8 hectare garden with ponds to capture the rain run-off from their leaf-like roofs.

“The complex has been designed to give a sense of being grounded, yet soaring,” says Damien.

In exhibiting for six months in Venice, Damien says their aim is to shine a light on New Zealand as a source of inspiration, Dunedin as a hub of creative energy and Otago Polytechnic – with whom the firm has a longstanding relationship – as a source of talented designers.

“As a country, New Zealanders are extremely well trained through our tertiary education, but do not always get a great deal of architectural attention,” says Damien.

“We have been keeping a low profile, but given the significance of this project in terms of world architecture and for a New Zealand relationship with China, it seems like the right time to agree to showcase our current project and celebrate what we can achieve here in New Zealand,” says Luca.

Van Brandenburg’s collaboration with Otago Polytechnic dates back to 2007 when design and innovation staff and students were deployed to be involved in the project. "We worked together on the original Marisfrolg proposal using the Otago Polytechnic expertise including their staff and digital modelling equipment,” recalls Fred.

“Since then we have employed several of their graduates and have offered a number of internships to their Design students,” adds Damien.

Otago Polytechnic Chief Executive Phil Ker says the relationship “heralds what is possible with education-industry partnerships. It’s a win for everyone – students, business, New Zealand’s trade with China, Marisfrolg, Dunedin and the Otago Polytechnic.”

To find out more about Architecture van Brandenburg’s New Zealand exhibition in Venice 2014 please visit:

Venue details:
Museo Diocesano di Venezia Sant’Apollonia. Fondamenta della Canonica Castello, 4312- 30122 Venezia

Find out more about the Otago Polytechnic School of Design here


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