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Interwoven with layers of functional and decorative art, Waitakere Central showcases the latest sustainable building techniques

Smart meets art

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Among the things Waitakere is renowned for, one is an abundance of natural resources – native forests and black sand-covered west coast beaches. The region also provides both a home and inspiration to many of the country's finest professional painters, photographers and sculptors.

The recently completed Waitakere Central recognises the importance of both these resources. Designed by Architectus, in association with Athfield Architects, and built by Canam Construction, the structure features a wealth of functional and decorative art. In keeping with the Waitakere City Council's eco city philosophy, the centre also exemplifies the potential of sustainable development, says Waitakere City councillor Penny Hulse, chair of the City Development Committee.

"As part of our eco city vision, the intention was to create a model for sustainable development. The centre is also an investment in Waitakere business, the community and our cultural heart. It demonstrates a commitment to developing the city centre, and is designed to add to the climate of business confidence and encourage other organisations to invest here."

The civic centre is a culmination of techniques developed and implemented in its other recent Waitakere City Council projects. From its green roof, which works to mitigate the effects of storm water on local streams and rivers, through to new air conditioning technology that recycles waste heat, and systems that mean lights are only on when they are needed, the building proves that in both residential and commercial applications sustainable development is now more than just a possibility.

The centre also continues the council's vision of creating vibrant public spaces. At the tender stage, two lead artists – Matthew von Sturmer and Kate Wells – were appointed to work as partners with the architectural design team. Using artists as design collaborators had already worked successfully on many of the city's other projects, says Naomi McCleary, the city's arts manager.

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"Matthew and Kate brought two very different attributes to the project. Kate has a background in visual arts, while Matthew has a design background. The final form of the building reflects the artists' contribution, with the discourse between artists and architects revealed in layers," says McCleary.

That discourse is at times subtle, such as in the copper inserts on the stair handrails. It is also revealed in functional and practical items, such as carpet design, the colours used to delineate workspaces, and also in the largest public area – the one-stop information shop.

"A large work of painted glass by artist Tabitha Forbes divides this space into public and private areas. The glass is functional: it is opaque and so gives privacy without blocking natural light. The images and text are based on the classifications of Lucy Cranwell, a world famous botanical specialist originally from Waitakere," says McCleary.

In some cases, the discourse is revealed more dramatically – most notably in the case of local iwi Te Kawerau a Maki, a three-storey structural column that was squared off and clad with 12 panels of detailed Maori carving. The lighting representing the Matariki constellation on the council chamber wall and the gourd shape of the chamber are other indications of the collaboration between iwi, architects and artists.

"As well as making Waitakere's bi-cultural heritage accessible, we also wanted to recognise the importance of the local artistic community. We commissioned works from significant Waitakere artists such as Anne Robinson, John Edgar, Allie Eagle and Louise Purvis," she says.

Edgar's contribution, a 4m-tall bluestone obelisk will stand near the Japanese garden. Eagle's, a 7m-wide painting depicting Henderson's history, will grace the wall outside the council chamber.

For more details, contact the Waitakere City Council, phone (09) 839 0400. Website:www.waitakere.govt.nz . Visit Waitakere Central at 6 Henderson Valley Road, Henderson, Waitakere.

First published date: 20 September 2006

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