Design: Built with love

By Ben Crawford

There's more to see here than the planes, says Ben Crawford

Cumulus Cloud Sculptures at Christchurch Airport. Photo / Ben Crawford
Cumulus Cloud Sculptures at Christchurch Airport. Photo / Ben Crawford

I'm not ashamed to admit that one of my favourite movies of all time is Love Actually. No, I don't have a man crush on Hugh Grant. And no, it's not because I think it's what girls want to hear. I genuinely love the movie.

Oddly enough, it's the opening scene that sticks in my mind the most. Hugh Grant's voice, in that distinctive British accent of his, narrating over a series of shots in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport as people young and old, from all walks of life, welcome loved ones with hugs, kisses and giant smiles.

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends."

Now, whenever I'm in an airport those words roll through my mind, as loving welcomes are played out directly in front of me. But I also think about the flipside just a few hundred metres down the terminal at the departure gate, where airports are also horrific places, full of sobbing goodbyes. And this is typically done in dull, lifeless and sterile environments.

I've had my fair share on either side of the ledger, lots of laughs and lots of tears in many airports over the years, especially Christchurch Airport. I went to boarding school in Christchurch from a young age and got to know the airport's dark, warren-like contours incredibly well. I'd rush to get out there the moment a term ended, in eager anticipation of getting home, then begrudgingly trudge back through the same building at the end of the holidays.

After school I left Christchurch and never really went through the airport again until recently - and I got one heck of a surprise. The small, dated space had been replaced by a shiny, design-driven masterpiece full of uber-efficient functional airport stuff, along with beautiful decor and fit-out decisions.

I spent a lot of time wandering around because I truly appreciated the design they had implemented to create one of the best airports I have ever had the privilege to enjoy. It's an environment that fosters warmer welcomes and makes farewells easier to stomach. It's an airport built with love.

Here are just three of the design aspects I admire in Christchurch Airport:

Etched basalt wall panels

The formwork on the wall panels behind the check-in desks and around the security screening area have been intricately etched to represent the iconic braided rivers of the Canterbury Plains, creating an unexpected detail.

Speak to your builder about replicating something similar for your bathroom wall tiles or as feature panels in your exterior cladding.

Giant living wall

The Southern Alps guard the baggage collection area - a giant image of Mt Cook and its rolling green foothills seamlessly merges into a living wall of ferns and other lush foliage just above the carousel.

Give this a crack at home by selecting a suitable landscape image from a place that's special to you. Print it out to scale so it fits your chosen wall, then fix planters in place over the green areas. Have a chat to your local plant expert about the best plants for the job before you start.

Cumulus cloud sculptures

One of the most distinctive features on entering Christchurch Airport is the huge, stainless steel sculpture at the entrance by Auckland-based sculptor Gregor Kregar.

Thousands of triangular faces interlock to create an irregular ring shape, reflecting light and colour in all directions. And inside the airport, three complementary sculptures hang from the ceiling above the baggage carousel. Not only are they great works of art, they tell a story about local aviation hero Richard Pearse, symbolising the cumulus clouds he strove to reach.

Take a leaf out of the airport's book when selecting artwork for your home. Though we're not all able to commission custom pieces, choose items that have a connection to you and your family.


Ben Crawford and his sister Libby won the first series of The Block NZ. They run their own creative advertising agency, Libby & Ben. Find them at: libbyandben.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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