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Hey Google, Name The Most Beautiful, Innovative, Iconic Building

Scion’s Rotorua headquarters have gone head-to-head with the Silicon Valley campus of top tech company Google — and come out on top.

But there are no hard feelings between the architects behind the two incredible buildings.

The Dubai International Best Practices Award for Sustainable Development was presented last week (Feb 13) and Scion’s Innovation hub Te Whare Nui o Tuteata won ‘The Most Beautiful, Innovative and Iconic Building’ award.

Designed by RTA Studios and Irving Smith Architects, it was a finalist alongside Google Bay View in the United States designed by Danish studio Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and London-based Heatherwick Studio.

This week, Jeremy Smith of Irving Smith gave BIG partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann the grand tour of the Rotorua building while Bergmann was visiting New Zealand for an architecture conference.

Walking through the doors of Te Whare Nui o Tuteata for the first time, Bergmann says he was struck by the timber building’s warmth.

“Being a finalist in the same category is a great honour. The Dubai award celebrates work that innovates the building industry and Te Whare Nui o Tuteata and Google’s building both achieve that.”

The awards were held for the first time since 2019 in Dubai at the World Governments Summit. They featured five categories and attracted almost 3000 entries from around the globe.

The Most Beautiful, Innovative and Iconic Building category recognises iconic, smart, innovative, human-centric sustainable projects that innovatively combine green design and construction practices with modern architectural excellence.

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The win adds to the list of more than 20 national and international awards Te Whare Nui o Tuteata has taken home since opening in 2021.

The building’s name, meaning the great house of Tuteata, acknowledges Tuteata who is the ancestor of the three hapū who are the tangata whenua here: Ngāti Hurungaterangi, Ngāti Taeotu and Ngāti Te Kahu. The name was gifted to Scion by those three hapū.

The three-storey 2000 sq m building was built using a diagrid timber structure using less material than traditional structures. Scion tested the strength of the diagrid components. The building has also been designed to be carbon-zero meaning it stores as much carbon as was emitted during its construction.

Google Bay View opened in 2022 on a 42-acre site in Silicon Valley. It consists of three buildings totaling 1.1 million sq ft – including two workspace buildings, an events centre and accommodation. The campus aims to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030 and renewable energy and solar potential were prioritised.

Globally, the built environment is responsible for about 40 per cent of energy related carbon emissions. Bergmann says architects are increasingly finding new ways to incorporate timber into their multi-storey designs, but more education is needed.

“We look at the operational energy of a building often but more important is the embodied energy, and that’s the building materials that we use. Fortunately, we are at a time when timber is an option,” he says.

“There are structural advancements and pre-engineered wood manufacturing advancements happening alongside changes to building codes. High rises built using timber are getting up to 20 or 30 floors tall around the world.”

Irving says winning the award is fantastic. “It feels amazing to be doing this kind of innovative work and to get noticed internationally. This building is achieving exactly what Scion is doing with its research – having an impact on the world stage.”

Scion’s Forests to Timber Products general manager Henri Bailleres says the win solidifies the building as an “international timber architecture icon”.

He says the building was carefully designed in a process involving engineers, architects, designers and Scion scientists, and collaboration was the key to success.

“It’s an iconic building because there are a lot of elements attached to it. There are the Māori cultural elements, innovative design elements, seismic resistance, elegant design and maximal use of timber.

“It’s a showcase technically and aesthetically of what can be done with timber,” he says.

“It couldn’t have been done without having this synergy.”

He says Scion led the sustainable building charge and this had flow-on effects, with the new Fisher and Paykel global headquarters being designed by RTA Studios using similar principles of sustainability and timber technology.

RTA design lead Rich Naish accepted the award in Dubai and says it is a “great honour” to receive recognition on the world stage for innovation developed in New Zealand with partners.

“What I believe has been recognised is a prototype for change to mitigate the effects of climate change in the construction industry, not just applicable to our region but the whole world.

“Being present at the World Government Summit in Dubai provided acute relevance to me, the intent of this region of the world with UN Habitat to find immediate sustainable architectural solutions for our future.”

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