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Designed as part of the pedestrian landscape, a public plaza is a focal point for this apartment development

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New apartment buildings are springing up like mushrooms in inner-city suburbs. Primarily created to provide residential accommodation, they seldom provide opportunities for interaction within the community.

The focal point of this development is a large, central plaza that presents an open, inviting face to the public, says Richard Naish of RTA Studio.

"With only a wide flight of steps separating it from the street, the plaza was designed as an extension of the pedestrian landscape. Oriented towards the sun and not closed off, it provides a pleasant, sheltered spot for people from the surrounding offices and cafés to eat lunch."

A square of lawn set in a raised concrete plinth offers a grassy place to sit and relax. Trough-like planters and a water feature stretched out along one side of the plaza provide a subtle privacy barrier for residents that doesn't compromise views of the courtyard.

The development, called Arena, is by Hemisphere Group. The first stage comprises 27 apartments, a 38-suite boutique hotel, retail space and 200 carparks – all housed in one building. It is located in a low-rise, mixed residential-commercial zone, the vernacular including a number of heritage-listed buildings.

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"The brief was for a striking-looking structure that would sit comfortably within this environment. Our standpoint was to design a building with the proportion, scale and massing to achieve this level of compatibility," says Naish.

"A building that exuded solidity and a sense of permanence was also important."

The result is a five-level building, organised around the public plaza and designed to maximise light and views of the harbour and city. Its street frontage has been stepped down to temper its size compared to the neighbouring houses, while the remaining mass features a strong, linear look.

Timber, metal and glass soften and humanise the building's predominantly concrete façade. Cedar panels punctuate the exterior in an orderly fashion, also appearing on the underside of the terraced apartments' wide eaves. Cantilevered over the public plaza is a lap pool, part of the building's composition of rectilinear planes, says Naish.

"The lap pool has a glazed bottom that is suspended above the double-height hotel lobby. The visual connection of something going on above complements the theme of grouping activities around a central entry point."

To access the apartments, residents use an adjacent but separate entrance.

Like the boutique hotel, the interior spaces of the apartments – including those of the penthouse featured here – reflect a sleek, contemporary look, says interior designer Alasdair Hood of Vanillaspace. To maximise space and minimise clutter, he used a restrained colour palette with natural materials, including timber floors recycled from wood salvaged from the old cigar factory that once stood on the site. As well as providing shade and privacy, metallic sheers in varying shades of grey help to create the a united front on the exterior.

First published date: 16 January 2004

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Credit List

Location Arena, Auckland
Architect RTA Studio/Naish Melville Architects
Developer Hemisphere Group
Interior design Vanillaspace
Main contractor Ebert Construction
Civil engineer Thorburn Consultants
Mechanical engineer Tony Thompson
Electrical engineer Michael Masterantonio
Landscaping Encompass Design
Fire consultant Fire Engineering Consultants
Cladding Pre-cast concrete
Exterior joinery Oakley powdercoated aluminium from Miller Design
Roof Lightweight iron
Carpet Feltex
Ceiling Gib plasterboard from Winstone Wallboards
Paints Resene
Kitchen cabinetry Lacquer and wood veneer
Benchtop Stonex
Hob and oven Smeg
Dishwasher Fisher & Paykel