The study and influence of context

The study and influence of context

As chairperson of the Wanaka Urban Design Panel, it is frustrating to see proposals come past the panel that are designed as stand alone buildings without proper consideration of its neighbours let alone looking slightly further afield and responding to the character, scale and rhythm of the streetscape. I do not see how designers can start to design without examining the conditions that their proposals will sit among.  I am not suggesting that designers should copy their neighbour but some logic can be derived by the surrounding conditions. The shape and size of a tree in a forest will be influenced by the tree adjoining; the wind and availability of sunlight, it may not even be the same species to its neighbours but it will share some common influence and look part of the whole.

This is not limited to urban situations with suburban and rural sites needing to consider a much wider context. Natural influences such as wind sun topography and views can have more influence than the surrounding built forms. I continue to be involved in a design review service for local housing companies which is a great opportunity to examine the context and make the investment of a house much more than merely checking off a wish list of 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, open plan living and so on. Capturing a certain view, achieving privacy from the neighbours  or providing outdoor access to a sheltered court may not necessarily cost any more but make living in that building so much more enjoyable.

A recent example of this is a house built by Stonewood Homes of Wanaka. The result may not be highbrow architecture, but the spaces work well because we took the time to consider where the furniture would go and there is easy connection to an outdoor area that is private with great views, sun and shade from the west. The most pleasing aspect of this is that we managed to achieve this while maintaining the views of the ridgeline from Mt Roy back along Mt Alpha. The clients are happy that they have been delivered a well built house on budget and are happy they were prepared to take a little extra time to refine the proportions of the house and to consider how the plan worked internally and in the greater context.

Western Shade

Mt Alpha View

Wanaka Town Centre Guidelines

Well it has been some time since I have made a Blog entry. My excuse is that not only do I have a hectic family life within this piece of paradise, I have been quite busy with changing from PC to Mac computers and completing a variety of projects ranging from landscape features, remodeling of older cribs; extensions to 1950’s brick houses and a new build residence designed to withstand a Design Wind speed of 216km/hour. I am really looking forward to several of these projects starting on site once temperatures warm up in the spring.

I have also been busy as a member of the Queenstown Lakes District Council steering group for the development of The Wanaka Town Centre Guidelines. The guidelines were contracted out to some urban designers from Auckland who traditionally produce very good work.  Unfortunately in this case they prepared a guideline that was very wordy with quite generic guidelines that didn’t demonstrate a local understanding of what makes Wanaka different. The steering group was quite disappointed, as we had hoped for something quite graphic and inspirational, instead we had abundance of words that were hard work to read through, let alone be inspirational.

After little progress with 4 drafts over a 6 month period QLDC took over the writing of the document and with the help of the local steering committee have produced a document that is specific to Wanaka and should help both building designers and developers produce good buildings that are sympathetic to the communities desires. I think it is a good demonstration that local knowledge is absolutely key, otherwise you will end up with a product that is not relevant no matter how clever the creators are.

Hopefully QLDC will look at bit closer to home in the future; there is good experience in Wanaka. The Guideline has been out for public comment and can be found on the QLDC website