EPISODE SUMMARY: On this episode of Indigenous Urbanism, we visit the Vinegar Lane precinct in inner-city Ponsonby, and learn about how a bi-cultural design ethos has been successfully applied to multi-residential housing within a mixed-use development.
GUESTS: Nicholas Dalton
Jade Kake: Medium-density housing, transit-oriented development, mixed use. The principles of new urbanism have reached Tāmaki Makaurau. These core tenets of urban design have become accepted as international best practice for creating better communities, and more liveable urban spaces. So how exactly does a te ao Māori perspective factor in?
Nick Dalton: Yeah so we're here at Vinegar Lane, some four years after we started the process. So, 31 different lots formed on the site around Vinegar Lane. Now Vinegar Lane is named after the DYC Vinegar Factory that was on this site.
JK: Did it fill the whole site?
ND: Yes. So it was here from late 1800s to 1950s I think, 1960s. And interestingly, we found out quite a bit later that the factory itself was made of totara.
JK: It's a beautiful facade. Tell me about this shape here?
ND: So, there's a number of references and from the black concrete, obviously, just relating the black volcanic soils, or cones of Tāmaki Makaurau, and also the timber referencing, initially being totara, but even as another species it still speaks to the New Zealand vernacular of a vertical house.
JK: And it's a nod to the heritage of this space.
ND: Yeah. The clients actually came to us and they had a very modest budget at the start, and we designed something that was quite striking but modest, and they sort of said, no, we want this to be a statement. So show us what that looks like.
JK: Show us what you can do.
ND: Yeah. So we ended up doing this giant X basically, which is a really cool sort of device, cause those are bedrooms behind there, and they've got louvred screens for privacy to the street. So it's still got a practical purpose. We like everything at Toa to have not just an aesthetic kind of idea, it's usually some kind of concept or idea behind that, and then a practical reason as well.
So if we're standing virtually near the top of Vinegar Lane itself, and looking basically due North, we've got three sites, and two of them are visible right now. So straight ahead is Aria Apartments, Vinegar Lane. Really, really dense for the site. So only 376 square metre footprint, and we managed to get 20 apartments on there. Quite an affordable design. That's actually quite a lot of young people are actually occupying that building, which is what we really want, what we wanted. That was our vision to kind of mix up this whole sort of precinct. I mean interestingly there's a design panel, and we got quite a bit of resistance with having so many apartments, and it was like, what minimum standards are you using. And I said, well have you been Copenhagen, have you been to Tokyo, have you, you know, the rest of the world has 30 square metre apartments and they function quite well. And so we didn't want this to be 120 square metre foot plate at 1.5 million dollars. That's not affordable. A number of the apartments in Lot 7 were under, were just over $400,000. That's pretty amazing value for Ponsonby. We were really proud of, you know we hung onto our guns there, they were quite bolshy in terms of, these should be bigger and we basically said, no.
JK: How did you get that across the line?
ND: I think that they listened to the rationale. It's just like, we want this to be a vibrant mix. The whole idea is the ground level, all of these sites have an option to make them either residential or some kind of commercial use. The key sites like the corner ones have a list of functions that they were allowed, for example a cafe or an art gallery. So it was very much about creating this urban kind of village. And so we were like, if you want that to happen we've got to have people that live here.
JK: Now is this site, is this all one developer or a variety of developers working together?
ND: So interestingly Vinegar Lane, the whole precinct, was in environment court for about two decades because the initial developer that bought it from DYC Company had really awful visions of a big faux villa. Three levels, monolithic, colonial, filigrees and polystyrene windows surrounds. So, Ponsonby got very, very angry and like all good community groups, fought it off. Then, so, actually Progressive came around in 2007 and bought the site and said, well how about we want to do a commercial development on the front, but let's do something different on the back. So, it was a combination of Isthmus Group, an evolution of Rhubarb Lane, which sort of happened about ten years prior to that, and that had a lot of the top architects like Pip Cheshire and Pete Bossley and stuff involved, but it fell over because it was leasehold land. This is freehold, so it's really, really great. So, thirty-one different sites, and up to 16m vertical, so, quite a neat idea actually.
JK: I mean, so this really exemplifies the principles of mixed use development, which is where urban design internationally is going and where it's going in this City. For those who don't know, could you explain what mixed-use development is.
ND: Yeah, so, mixed-use is something that we - Toa as a practice - really embrace. It's the idea of Māori design principles of old, of a vertical papakāinga. You know, papakāinga where we worked on site, we lived, we ate, we played, we educated, we trained for war. Everything was done within the pā. And so, the idea of taking that vertically is really quite exciting for us.
JK: Tēnā koutou katoa
Nau mai haere mai ki te Indigenous Urbanism, Aotearoa Edition, Episode 8.
I’m your host Jade Kake and this is Indigenous Urbanism, stories about the spaces we inhabit, and the community drivers and practitioners who are shaping those environments and decolonising through design.
On this episode of Indigenous Urbanism, we visit the Vinegar Lane precinct in inner-city Ponsonby, and learn about how a bi-cultural design ethos has been successfully applied to multi-residential housing within a mixed-use development.
We spoke with Nick Dalton, nō Ngāti Pikiao raua ko Ngāti Whakaue, Founding Director of TOA Architects, a firm based in Tāmaki Makaurau. TOA are the architects for three of the buildings within the Vinegar Lane precinct - Lot 4, Aria Apartments, and Rua Tekau.
ND: Ko Ngongotahā te maunga, Ko Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe te roto, Ko Te Arawa te waka, Ko Ngāti Whakaue te hapū, Ko Nicholas Dalton taku ingoa.
JK: So you've talked a little bit about this project here, what's the name of that one?
ND: So, it's just Lot 4. Lot 4 Vinegar Lane.
JK: Lot 4. Okay, we've talked about Lot Four a little bit. Do you want a bit about Aria? So you talked about smaller apartment size, and affordability, and kind of creating these vibrant communities. Could you tell me about the inspiration behind the facade design. Because that's quite striking.
ND: Yeah, totally. Let's, shall we?
JK: Yes, let's walk and talk.
ND: Move a little bit closer. It being a key corner site, and I guess it was a bit of give and take with the design panel, and the fact that they wanted something great there, you know. And it was interesting that again there was resistance, they had sort of ideas of vertical connection being to the front corner, and we're just like, why would you do that? We find that really, really quite strange. So, we wanted a facade which kind of activated, but also spoke to the idea of looking, certainly at a Māori reference. So, geometric tāniko or pātiki, the school of flounder. One of the jurors from the NZIA sort of said, well, what relevance does it have. And I said, well, the whole idea of the pātiki, the school of flounder, it's about whānau but it's also about prosperity. So, being together. And so that idea that, even though it's an apartment, there's actually many kind of families, it's a community in itself. And so that idea of expressing that on the facade is not only acknowledgement of this really, kind of age old Māori archetype or philosophy, or kaupapa sorry, in a modern context. So, yeah, really, really wrapped with how it's turned out.
JK: Well, it looks really beautiful. Are there communal spaces within the building.
ND: We initially when were going through the feasibility at the start we did have a roof terrace. We found that it did actually add quite a lot of cost, which meant those affordable units would actually no longer be affordable. And plus, I think in the context we've got to remember in the context of Vinegar Lane, there's actually a central courtyard there which is landscaped, and some of the spaces on ground level are protected in terms of they have to be a communal use.
JK: So the whole ground plane is kind of your communal space?
ND: Yeah. So I think that we found solace in that.
JK: And you can do that because it's a precinct, rather than just a building in isolation.
ND: Yes, that's right. Yeah, if there wasn't anything around, we'd probably be pushing harder for that idea of having that space for gathering.
JK: Well, context is everything
ND: Kia ora.
JK: Do you have any ideas what this tenancy underneath might end up being?
ND: Well, we initially designed it as a cafe. So, if you see from the original renders we had seats and tables on the ground floor, out on the street here. Unfortunately, because I think one of the failings of the setup of the precinct is there's no time restriction on when these guys have to have things built. So as you can see, this side of the street is completely intact, which is great, but actually a lot of the site is still a construction site. So, I think that we're going to find that a lot of the spaces are going to be empty, or not as they will end up in the next few years.
JK: And it's tricky as the architect as you don't have a lot of control, or any over that.
JK: Hey I like these steel... yeah, tell me about that?
ND: I grew up in the country, I grew up in a village called Mamaku. And so, the whole idea of, particularly our Pākehā heritage, is the idea of the pioneer. The number eight wire, the agriculture, the shearing sheds. And so, you'll find it a lot with a lot of our projects is we have this really kind of polished part to it, and the we've got this kind of agricultural sort of reference, or homage. And I hate glass balustrades. I think they're really, kind of, they get dirty and they're just kind of never - they're supposed to not be there but they're there. That whole idea of a galvanised steel angle is kind of grunty and rough and raw, and just kind of cool.
JK: Hmm. But then it's kind of set against the timber, which feels warmer and kind of more...
ND: Yeah, so, definitely. The timber inserts inside those balconies are really important to us, to make that warm reference. And again, it was really important that the apartments that we do have that feeling. You know, that feeling of refuge, of being home, of being safe and warm.
JK: What's the - Sorry, something I always find challenging when I stay in the City is that it's really noisy and it's hard to rest. What is the acoustics like in these apartments?
ND: Really, really good. So, everything's double glazed of course. Aria's Homestar 6. I think code is like Homestar 3 and a half. So it's basically double code. Which again, we're quite proud of. Yeah. It works, not only from a thermal performance, but also acoustics as well.
JK: So if I stayed here I'd get a good night's sleep?
ND: Then again, I think it's really important, the whole idea of threshold, of welcoming, manaakitanga. This double height entry, if you look up, purely a developer driven project, there would be an apartment there. We're looking at basically thousands of dollars of someone's profit which has been removed for the enjoyment of everyone in the building.
JK: Yeah, this entry space feels really good, it's really legible from the street so you know where the entrance is. And you do feel like it really is a portal or a threshold. What does that do, as you step through something like this? What does it do to your frame of mind if you're somebody living here?
ND: Well, I think that for us again it's trying to create things that aren't bottom line driven, that are about a place to live, that idea that you honour home, or you know, that sense of belonging, or that sense of just, it's somewhere a little bit more special. Than, you know, a concrete box that everything's based on minimum. So, we're quite proud of that. You come home everyday and it's this really beautiful, warm entrance, and it's everyone's.
ND: We've just won a number of awards for Aria, and so we're really really happy that the industry and our peers have kind of endorsed it.
JK: So this one's obviously the kind of the star of the show and it's won all sorts of accolades, but you said there's a third project as well?
There was a lot of construction noise outside - the development is still under construction - so we stepped into a colleague's office, located within the Vinegar Lane precinct to continue our kōrero.
So tell me about the third building in the Vinegar precinct?
ND: Yeah, interestingly 88 square metre footprint. Only 6m wide. A different owner who's pretty much a first time developer. So Lot 20. And so we called it Rua Tekau, Māori for 20. And, we actually had a giant kind of black volcanic concrete lift shaft on the front of the building with Rua Tekau embedded in that. And interestingly, the clients were Pākehā and they were, oh Rua Te-cow, I remember that at school, you know. But, you know, and they laughed. But they kind of went, oh I get it, they were, you know, they appreciated it and they were running with us on that.
JK: Well, we're at such a different point in time I think, where non-Māori are like really embracing these kind of things. I think that's relatively recent.
ND: Yes. So, I mean I think that there, like you know for us we're starting to as a practice change our language. We have te reo lessons for the whole office every two weeks. And it's really beautiful because we not only talk about the reo, but actually the questions of whakapapa, and how you do your pepeha if you're not Māori.
JK: It's also embedded in it, and I think if you're working alongside non-Māori as you are, it becomes kind of a Treaty conversation and understanding our relationship and what situates us here and what gives everyone the right to be here together.
ND: Yeah, and interestingly this thing kind of came up about - and I always sort of said - there are Pākehā that love this land, that love Aotearoa. And so, you know, what can they reference themselves, with a bit more of a deeper connection. And so, one of the things that came up, which I already had a bit of a handle on, was Tangata Tiriti. And I just thought, people of not only the Treaty, but the Māori version of the Treaty is a very powerful kind of term. And there are a number of people on staff that were like, the Treaty is our founding document. And they were really opposed to the idea of becoming a Republic, because that's us, forever. And I just thought that was quite a beautiful thing, particularly to come from a non-Māori. To say that, and say, I am Tangata Tiriti. And I think that that's a huge kind of generation shift.
JK: And understanding and being confident in the fact that their identity is in relation to Māori culture and to this place, and that that's a positive strengths based thing for them, as well as everyone else.
JK: It really strikes me that your practice is very much a bicultural approach, and that comes through quite clearly in all of your work, and when I hear you talk about your work.
ND: Yeah, kia ora. I mean it's, we've sort of done a lot of reflection over the last little while, and where we came to in terms of our mission statement was the idea of creating an architecture which is of Aotearoa. And all that that encompasses. So, whilst it doesn't sort of label anything Māori, it's embedded, because it's a Māori term and it's a Māori kind of idea. Kupe's wife naming. What she saw in front of her. Which was a different vision from what they have in the islands. The long, long white cloud. Pretty beautiful.
JK: What does that mean for you, to be able to contribute back to your own people?
ND: It means a lot. It means, I mean I've got a broad definition of my own people, because, you know, I am Pākehā and I am Māori. So, you know, actually, the first broad definition of my people are anyone that loves this land. So, I know some Pākehā that absolutely love this land. One thread happened, I remember watching the news, and it was a Pākehā lady in Christchurch. And she was in the red zone. And she was actually sitting in the land where her house once was. And it was a garden, and it was basically just not allowed to be built on again. But she would go back there and maintain this garden like it was her own. And she welled up when they asked her, why are you doing this? You don't own it anymore, you were paid out, you've built a new house, it's across town, why do you come back here? And whilst her description wasn't, this is my tūrangawaewae, that's essentially what she felt. She welled up, she said I love this land, I love this. I respond well to that. You know, I think that that is beautiful. I don't think it's necessarily about whakapapa as such, it is how you relate as a human to this whenua.
JK: A combination of both, and that both of those are valid.
ND: Yeah. Yes, exactly.
JK: So another thing that I wanted to ask you about, is Māori Modular Housing. Tell me about that.
ND: Yeah look it's something that I've probably been thinking about for a very long time. And, I guess it's kind of drawn from a number of influences. But I guess the main thing that it responds to, is I believe the two fundamental parts to the housing crisis. There is a housing crisis, by the way.
JK: Well, I don't hear anyone denying it, so loudly anymore.
ND: Yeah. So but what's interesting is I feel, one is obviously supply, and just having enough houses and bedrooms for our whānau and for all our people. It's pretty horrible when you actually look at the raw numbers of, at most we're doing 23,000 residences per year. That's nationwide, and if we're emigrating 60,000, there's a huge deficit there. And so, people are being displaced. That's the top problem, in terms of the housing crisis. But the second part, I feel, is probably more problematic, has a longer term flow on effect or negative impact, and that's actually the quality of what we build. So we can build 100,000 houses, or 100,000 shelters, but if they don't respond to the climate, to the culture, to making communities, we're kind of creating another problem, in a way. We're sort of creating shelter, but not creating communities. MMH was born out of that, it's like how do we respond to those two things. So, working with New Zealand's largest builder, which is Mike Greer homes, and they are taking architecturally designed houses, largely putting them through their factory, so they can make up to five kit sets per day.
JK: That's very fast. And how long does it take to erect those?
ND: A month.
JK: That's really fast.
ND: So we can have a house completed within a month. That's turnkey with all your appliances, everything in there ready to live. So, so excited. Yeah, the MMH will have a National consent, so basically they'll have building consent already.
JK: Now, is that a variety of different typologies, or?
ND: Yep. So we've got a one-, a two-, a three-, and a four-bedroom all one level, and then we've got a three- and a four-bedroom two level, and then we're looking to stack them as well. So, up to three levels of one-bedroom, two-bedroom, three-bedroom.
JK: So you can go up to sort of medium density.
JK: And what's the per metre square build cost?
ND: It's quite comparable. Something that we really were challenged with in terms of, I wanted it to be affordable, so we were looking at how do we make it cheaper. But we've sort of reached this point where we didn't want to compromise on sourcing as many materials from Aotearoa as possible, we wanted the quality to be high, we wanted them to be above code. New Zealand building code is unfortunately the worst allowable by law, in the world. There was a level of quality that we didn't want to go below. It's still in the kind of early-mid 2000s per square metre. Which is pretty good, but what tips it over the scale is that if you're getting it in a month.
JK: It's the speed and the quality.
ND: It's the speed and the quality together that I think makes it a really desirable package, and the fact that, in Auckland it's rent for a family's $30,000 dollars. So, one year is $30,000 in your pocket.
JK: What that thing? Do you want it fast, cheap, or you know, good quality. You can only pick two, and that seems to be pretty true.
ND: So the first prototype is only a month away now, so we are taking orders from all over the country, and yeah, watch this space on that one.
JK: You can find out more about Aria Apartments and other TOA Architects projects at toa - that’s Tee Oh Aye .net.nz.
Indigenous Urbanism is a production of Te Matapihi. Sandy Wakefield does our sound recording, editing, and mixing. Our theme was composed by Thomas Burton. I’m Jade Kake, your host and Executive Producer.
For more information about today’s show and other episodes of Indigenous Urbanism go to indigenousurbanism.net. You can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you like what you’re hearing, please give us a review or rating on iTunes.
Coming up next on Indigenous Urbanism, we visit the site of the upcoming Paoa Whanake development in Point England, which will see 300 homes and a new marae built on Treaty settlement land.
Hau Rawiri: What is the point of difference that we bring? The point of difference that we bring is that it's not about creating housing alone, it's about creating a community. For Ngāti Paoa, and for the leadership of Ngāti Paoa, it was just to continue to move forward based on our principles of tika, doing things correct, doing things right; pono, just be honest to ourselves, and honest to others as well; but the important thing is the aroha. Aroha can take many forms, but for us, for Ngāti Paoa it's about compassion.