Brent Hulena in conversation with Jacq Knight
Architect Brent Hulena has worked on some very big and historically sensitive developments in his career, but none are as big or as sensitive as Peninsula One in Orakei Bay Village, and he is excited by both the opportunity and the challenge.
Hulena sits in his light and spacious Architectural practice cleverly and conveniently located in the epicenter of chic New Market. Although outside his office there is Auckland arterial traffic, delivering frenzied shoppers to some of the country’s best stores and cafes, his office is an oasis of calm and kiwi casualness, which underlies a confident and reassuring sophistication.
It helps that I have come on Creative Day, better known to the rest of us as Friday. Creative Day is a day that the team at Hulena Architects can opt to spend at home. The instigation of a four-day week occurred some years ago, and there has been no looking back. Brent feels that productivity and creativity are increased by this contracted approach to time, though six am starts for the other four days of the week intensified by longer than average working days are the hook.
The way Brent lives his life is a great nod to why he is so well placed to be the primary Architect for Peninsula One. He has recently moved to Parnell so that he and his wife can be close to work and the children close to school, minimizing the negative aspects of central Auckland living. For Brent, the human aspects, the connection to all the things you love and enjoy should not be far from the way you live the rest of your life. Brent’s philosophy of life seems embedded in his approach to architecture. This is why Brent is so excited about working on our project, Peninsula One. It’s going to be a new village for people just like him and his family.
Brent claims that peninsula One and Orakei Bay Village can’t be compared to anything else. “It’s next to nothing – it’s going to be fantastic” …he would love to live there himself. It is set in such a unique location, where you have physical connection with the water because you are on the coast, and a rail and road link that brings you to the city in a matter on a few minutes. Stunning views facing North to the harbor and West to the city. Apartments will get views of both the sky tower and boats on the water. “We are not just planning one building but a mixed-use village of retail, apartment and commercial areas that will be in harmony with each other”.
We are acutely aware that we are creating a new community for people with very high expectations of what that community to should feel like. The recent conversion of the old and derelict industrial sheds into urban super hip and convenient shopping and dining choices, signals our intention of providing an enhanced living experience for existing neighbours as well as for the villagers at Orakei bay, acknowledges Brent.
Inspiration for the design of Peninsula One, comes from the huge constraints of the land, and whilst this sounds like a rather negative imputes to spark creativity, Brent argues the opposite. In his view the constraints and the things that you have to work around can ignite the best design. When pushed to say which architects or designs he draws inspiration from for this project, he answers that inspiration comes simply from the site itself. Its location on the waters edge, that it is adjacent to a volcano, the views from the city, the harbor and Remuera. Those are really good things to draw on. The sites urbanity, the unique opportunity to treat the site like a small suburb with its heart in the center like villages of old, where people come to congregate and meet and yet on the perimeter the village will relate to the water and views. The mix between private and more public living spaces maximizing the sites incredible potential is the driver for design.
The geography of the site under Hulena stewardship, will dictate the materials and colour pallet to be used; basalt to recognize the volcanic elements, double glazed glass to maximize views and minimize the weather and noise, wood as a complement to the harder materials used and a big emphasis on a native planting scheme as important as the buildings themselves to allow the buildings to fit into their landscape in a more organic way.
But it’s not just the natural elements that lend inspiration to design. The railway is also a conceptual driving force. The convenience of having a train stop on your doorstep to whisk you into the city in the matter of minutes can’t be compromised by the formidable possibility of noise and vibration, so design challenges to address these issues need to be overcome. The solution has been to design the building nearest the railway to have a serrated edge, sitting obliquely to the railway. This gives the apartment-building terraces, which takes advantage of the North harbor view. Outdoor rooms known as Lanai rooms are made of glass, whose double-glazed panels can slide back creating quiet, private, all weather living spaces.
Orakei Bay Village sits at two levels. The lowest level is at the waters edge, the high level is on Orakei road and this too is seen as an advantage. The first stage will be the creation of the apartments at the waters edge, so that the latter stages of the development will build away from each other and not compromise the people that live there. The two tiered site is also advantageous to maximizing the sites extra-ordinary water views and has prompted clever designing to put as much car parking and through ways underground so that pedestrians and meeting areas and recreation spaces get priority. Brent notes that Kerry from Equinox is determined that there should be such unusual amenities as a potting shed and communal garden to enhance community areas. Walkways to the water and the facility to have water craft easily launched from the apartments pay tribute to the mutually valued kiwi lifestyle of developer and architect.
The birth of Orakei Bay Village has been long and complicated. The conception was almost 10 years ago and Hulena Architects were brought onboard to breathe new life into the latter stages of design. Coming late onboard to any project has its own difficulties and Brent had to learn the idiosyncrasies of Equinox and the other stakeholders in the project, namely: Transport NZ, NZ Rail, Ngati Whatua and lastly Auckland Council. Although Brent is naturally reserved he marveled at the tenacity, patience and huge reserve of energy the Equinox team has had in what has clearly been an extraordinarily long and drawn out process of negotiation. He cannot think of another player in the property game that could have sustained these birthing pangs.
With that said there has been a great deal learnt in these 10 years and the team of Equinox and Huleana Architects are very much in alignment with the council’s desire to “create the worlds most livable city”. Orakei Bay Village is well on its way to being the flagship to council’s aspiration.