Impulsive and excited describes how I feel when an architecture or design related lecture happens to pop up in my path. These feelings have increased since working in the building industry as the discussions found in them are all that more visceral. I thus jumped on the opportunity to see Nat Cheshire’s keynote lecture at the Buildnz/Designex Building expo in Christchurch and I have to say, it was enthralling.
Nat Cheshire co-directs a prodigious architecture firm in Auckland with his father Pip Cheshire. They are best known for a great number of recent buildings and fit outs within the Britomart area in Auckland city centre. Cheshire’s Britomart projects work with their romantic contextual environment of abandoned run down historical buildings and infuse these spaces with violent and emotional experiences of architecture. These interventions have since drawn a heavy traffic flow of people to the area and have become an intriguing case of how to revive a city by architecture.
Cheshire’s talk was powerfully poetic. His words came from a person frustrated with the culture of commercial architecture; maddened with the future possibilities of architecture, and closely in tune with the nuances of making it. I found his methods of making of architecture inspiring as it was fuelled by real-time engagement, action and experimentation. Such methods have produced fantastical architecture such as the Hill Top house with its playful contrast of materials, the Milse lane bar interior fit out with its animated patterned shell structure, and the Mandarin bar with its dark, oily, brooding surfaces.
His talk and his architecture convinced us all in the audience that architecture can have a powerful impact on society and place - what was more endearing about his approach was how aware of his own physical limitations he was. He is merely a single designer who has chosen to focus this overwhelming energy of his on the impact of new design in the dried up spaces of Auckland city. An interesting comment Cheshire made that resonated with me personally was ‘to not underestimate the power of a humble fit out’. If anything, this comment inspired me as a recent graduate of architecture to take advantage of the opportunities (including the smallest ones) of building and designing opportunities that come my way.
Just like the opportunity to go to this lecture, in my own very small way, I hope to use these opportunities to infiltrate the architecture Christchurch; to help set off explosions of exciting architecture in the city. Sadly Cheshire Architects are unable at this stage to design in Christchurch due to their focus in Auckland. Instead I believe that their work in Auckland can be used as inspiration to how we approach the re-building of Christchurch.