The Hotel Britomart is officially OPEN and we are officially OBSESSED
In breaking news, The Hotel Britomart by Cheshire Architects open their beautifully bespoke doors to much deserved fanfare. Join us on a virtual tour with lead architect, Dajiang Tai, as he walks and talks us through New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star hotel.
INTERVIEW ADAM BRYCE
Over the past 15 years, Britomart has changed the landscape of Auckland and the positioning of The Hotel Britomart brings the Precinct’s concept full circle. Visiting the city of sails now offers the option of laying your head on a lofty pillow of a world-class hotel with hospitality, shopping and work options all on your doorstep. In fact, it’s closer than your doorstep because it’s all part of one interconnected space. The unique proposition allows you to reside overnight in the heart of Britomart, dine at the finest of cafés and restaurants (including the newly opened Kingi) and partake in some retail therapy at some of New Zealand’s best retailers.
The 10-storey, 104-room hotel design is revolutionary, an immersively beautiful space from the 150,000 hand-made brick exterior to the local boutique skincare solutions. Smack bang in Auckland’s historic waterfront neighbourhood, The Hotel Britomart is the ideal welcome showcasing a modern and evolving New Zealand.
Sustainability is such an integral part of this project. How much of an impact has that made on your role in the job?
We took it on as part of the project brief, so we didn’t treat it like this one extra thing. That was just part of the project brief, which everyone was super excited on because, in smaller projects, we tend to do little things, like have some solar panels here, add a water tank here. But, for a building this size, aiming for that five Green Star got everyone pumped.
Sustainability is something that gets talked about a lot, especially in the fashion and beauty industries. Is it a facet within architecture that people are very conscious of?
More and more so. We, in New Zealand, are super humble about everything. We do things about it, we just don’t talk as much. Whereas, other countries, they do talk about it. These things get talked about every day, especially in the architectural world. There’s this architectural declaration thing that’s going on across all the architects worldwide where a lot of architects have become part of this movement. It’s just where the world is going and I think we’re already too late in doing something about it.
We’re already built, to some extent. So, to make a huge change, we would have to start building again.
And sustainability, to our office, is almost as important as the structure of a building, it’s all part of things you have to just consider now. Like, every tap you choose, you want to choose a good tap that doesn’t spill water right out. Or the floorboards that you choose, you want to make sure they come from the right tree and we’re not killing the rainforest somewhere.
I always think that sustainability shouldn’t really be talked about as much, because it should just go without saying. It’s good that people talk about it for awareness but, at the same time, if you’re an architect or a designer, it should be standard.
Yeah, the standard. It’s just how far you want to push it. Like this building — we pushed it really far, to somewhere that we’d never gone before, that’s the exciting part. We always think sustainability is solar panels and water tanks but there’s so much more to it.
When I spoke to Nat [Cheshire] a little while back, he mentioned that concrete was a bad material. So, there’s no concrete in The Hotel Britomart?
There’s a lot of concrete but there are so many ways of making concrete well. This building used 50 per cent recycled water to make the concrete and the wastage is used for the road pavings and asphalt underlays. All of those are part of the strategy, it just needs to be monitored and more controlled.
So it’s more about not excluding things altogether, just about how you use it. Cheshire Architects have managed the whole process, from the foundations right through to the interior design. When it comes to sustainability being this really enjoyable challenge, were there things that came across that you found a little bit more difficult which you hadn’t anticipated?
Making a sustainable building doesn’t necessarily make the building less architectural. You can make an architectural piece which is completely sustainable. There are definitely challenges; we can only get materials that are FSC-rated. To meet those requirements, you definitely narrow down your scope but we also opened up a new market. And, because the office is this size, a lot of suppliers were willing to use FSC-rated material.
I’ve looked around and one would never think that materials had been limited in choice, it’s beautiful.
As architects, the more we ask the suppliers those questions, the more aware they’ve become. Nowadays, they say, “Oh, we have this new sustainable material. Do you want to consider it?” Awareness is a key part of making sustainable buildings.
When The Hotel Britomart came on my radar, I thought of the notion that there’d never been a cool hotel in Auckland before. I never understood how, in the whole of Auckland, almost New Zealand, that it could be the case. Yet tourism is such an integral component of our economy. Did the hotel element of it feel uniquely exciting to work on?
We’ve worked on Britomart Precinct for 20 or so years now and the Britomart language all started from a little inward-facing laneway; that was the beginning of Britomart. There is Cafe Hanoi, Caretaker, Amano, the pavilions and there was 1885 and Country Club. People tend to forget that five years or six years ago, this was an empty carpark.
It’s so quick. It’s crazy, the change.
Yeah, and people would take this as a given. They’ll say, “Britomart is finished, this is it.” What they don’t realise is, this is the first life of Britomart and the hotel marks the second, more-permanent life of Britomart.
It’s the beginning of a second stage.
And that is what’s exciting about the project because Britomart is known for its retail and hospitality. To amplify it and be the best hospitality precinct, you need a hotel because hotels are the ultimate hospitality.
That’s the centrepiece.
Besides, the hotel site isn’t big. The idea is that you sleep in it but, in one minute, you see the entire Britomart. So you get into the hotel as soon as you enter the Precinct. If you want breakfast, there are croissants and coffee at Amano and Daily Bread. If you want your wardrobe, go to Karen Walker. If you want makeup, M.A.C.
That’s such an interesting way to look at the whole project. The hotel is a sleeping zone for the entire Precinct.
For me, spending a night in a hotel is like having a date with the city. If this is a condensed version of the best part of the city, it’s part of the hotel.
Hotels and hospitality are being hugely affected by the pandemic but The Hotel Britomart is a ‘stay’ addition to the Precinct and could aim itself at local tourism. Because it’s not necessarily aimed at people who are coming from overseas, it’s aimed at people wanting to experience the city.
It’s a city hotel. It’s national business travellers. Even if you’re keen to spend a weekend with the city, it’s a city hotel.
You could do business for a couple of days — experience the nightlife, the weekend, the markets, and it’d be the perfect place to stay.
When I had a tour, I previewed one of the Landing Suites which are based on a Cheshire Architects-designed retreat, The Landing, in the Bay of Islands. How did you take a concept that’s so much about its natural environment and put that into the city?
To begin with, it was the same client and our same team along with LDa, the American interior designers who we collaborated with on suites. Here, the collaboration was very similar. We worked pretty intensely together on the suites but there are things that are similar and things that are different.
At The Landing, you get this manicured sort of landscape; it’s almost too good. Here, the counterbalance is this urban landscape so the common feeling is a calmness that we want to place in the rooms.
Standing in that room for five minutes felt quite calming, especially considering where we are; right in the middle of everything. There’s construction and roadworks everywhere.
We always knew that the space wasn’t going to be as vast as The Landing so we took the DNA and reapplied it. Here, there’s an intensity in this space and, when you carefully manage to line up every board with every table with every height, it’s very subtle but your brain processes it in a logical way that makes you feel calm. When everything is minimal and lined up, and the walls are completely flush with the doors, the handles are minimal. Those things, they’re very subtle.
They’re not necessarily conscious elements that people would notice but it adds to that feeling. The suite that I previewed had a butler’s pantry and a guest bathroom, which I haven’t seen in a hotel before. In a hotel, I normally feel like I’m the guest but there are bathrooms for guests.
Home is one of the important aspects of the hotel. You arrive somewhere completely foreign but you feel like you’re at home.
Somewhere that you feel familiar with already. Tell me about the hotel lobby. What were you aiming to achieve?
There are two parts to the lobby — one is the hotel lobby, one is the entire laneway lobby. The laneway lobby is really part of the urban space and one of the areas of which we’re most proud. How do you tell what Britomart is about to the rest of the world?
One thing, is its complexity. Because there are the 100-year-old elements, there is the brand new, there is a basement restaurant and there are rooftop bars. All of those things; it’s all about Britomart and I don’t know anywhere else in Auckland where you have that sort of quality.
The standard procedure, especially in Auckland, is to get rid of the old and just replace it. And what comes with that, is that it just needs constantly updating but keeping an element of heritage is so important. We might not be an old country but, eventually, we will be.
But it does make it complex for you. There are so many things going with a lot of different types of hospitality, retail, business — all these things to consider.
When we did the master-plan for Ortolana restaurant, we knew that this whole courtyard was the key. The desserts come from Milse and customers can watch people in white aprons walk across. That’s the soul of this courtyard, how they work together.
Once you’re in the laneway, the hotel lobby just becomes part of it all. There is the Kingi bar, the Kingi kitchen and Cafe Hanoi is right over there so, when you sit in Cafe Hanoi and look out, the lobby is right there. You’re almost sitting in the lobby. Same with the lobby. When you’re in the lobby, you feel like Cafe Hanoi is right there.
Even when you’re in the lobby, you still feel like you’re a part of that complexity. I guess that’s the success of what Cheshire Architects have created with Britomart from day one, everything’s been planned. Because you’ve been involved since the beginning, you know what’s coming next.
Crafting the experience is one of the most important aspects of what we do; good architecture is not enough. It has to be human, it has to be experience-based; crafting that atmospheric and experience of quality.
That’s hugely important. As an architecture firm, I think that Cheshire Architects do it better than anyone. It’s one thing to create beautiful buildings, it’s another to create beautiful buildings that people can actually use.
That comes to mind with a lot of different crafts because there are a lot of people, whether it’s hairdressers or architects who, maybe if they’re all about winning awards, they don’t consider the consumer experience as much as they do the industry perception. It’s one thing to have your own industry applaud you but it’s a whole other to have the world appreciate what you’ve created. It seems, that for Cheshire Architects, it’s more important to have everyone appreciate what you’ve created.
One important aspect, is working with all of the amazing operators, hands on. That’s the beauty of Auckland, everyone just knows everyone.
That’s one of the best thing about Auckland, the smallness creates better collaboration.
Cooper and Co are probably one of the bravest developers and really good at creating that culture. Campbell Williamson was the development director of the hotel; you can talk to him about the smallest thing and the biggest, and you know you’ll get an answer. The beauty is their vision of Britomart and allowing you to do more than you imagined. That’s why people are united.
The construction company — is it the same people who have worked on a lot of Britomart projects?
Yeah, it’s Bracewell [Construction & Development]. Eleven years ago, when I joined the company, we were doing the Stanbeth & Excelsior building and that was with Bracewells. I remember, when I was doing Xuxu [Dumpling Bar], the electrician was just a kid, like me. Now, he’s leading a whole team doing the hotel.
Most of the team at Britomart have been the same throughout the whole project, right? It’s almost the key to successful businesses. And that’s the same with Cheshire Architects.
A very low turnover; there is some gravity in that.
Cheshire Architects have a very specific philosophy and, I feel, if you’re aligned on that philosophy then it’s the only place could be, almost.
That’s right. In the field of architecture, there are a lot of ambitious people and Cheshire Architecture always have room for hungry people. But we’re not defined by typologies, we’ll be building something like this hotel but we also did those little door handles and designed some signage.
So you studied in Auckland, got a job at Cheshire Architects and worked there ever since?
I met Pip when I was in architecture school; he was one of the tutors and I loved the Congreve House. I used to think, ‘that is one of the best buildings in New Zealand. I’ve got to work for this guy.’ But I was so nervous because I don’t do a lot of computer stuff, I do a lot of hand drawings, watercolors.
That’s cool though because, I imagine, that wouldn’t necessarily be how you’re taught nowadays. You’d learn 3D first.
Pip and Nat, they’re some of the best line drawers that I know.
The Hotel Britomart hosts 99 timber-lined guest rooms and five luxurious Landing Suites, three of which boast lush sky gardens.
The Hotel Britomart is New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star hotel, certified by the New Zealand Green Building Council for design and build and managed according to the New Zealand Green Building Council’s Green Star Performance tool.
The hotel’s operations will result in 50 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a building that meets the minimum requirements of the New Zealand Building Code.
The Hotel Britomart is designed inside and out by Cheshire Architects, who also master-planned the Britomart neighbourhood in 2003, designed the Pavilions on Te Ara Tahuhu, and created the interiors for Ortolana restaurant.
Kingi, short for kingfish, is a new Precinct restaurant that offers fresh, locally sourced food in a thoughtful and approachable manner. Kingi is run by the same people who introduced Orphans Kitchen and Daily Bread to Auckland.
Each room at The Hotel Britomart features hand-made ceramics by local artisans, including work by ceramicists Elena Renker and Rachel Carter. Cheshire Architects designed the bronze-and-paper ‘Fulcrum’ table lamps which feature in each guest room and are available from Resident.
The Hotel Britomart project involved the refurbishment of four adjacent heritage buildings, as well as the creation of a new public laneway linking two key Britomart streets.
The linen and towels are 100 per cent organic cotton with duvets and pillows made from a luxury microfibre derived from recycled plastic bottles.