Artwork in an old Auckland building enlivens the foyer, makes workers feel better and directs visitors to the lifts.

From the outside, the Old South British Insurance Company building in downtown Auckland looks like another stone heritage building.

But those who peek inside are transported into a bold and colourful world.

It's thanks to Phoenix Cluster, a vibrant "scape" ranging across a 7m-long curved wall, which would otherwise be just a little bland and boring. Created by award-winning artist Sara Hughes, who specialises in large-scale and brightly coloured installations and paintings, Phoenix Cluster is the latest in a series of frequently-changing artworks to grace the wall.

A UK study shows we're less stressed, healthier and do more when we're in workplaces with art on the walls. Carried out by the Identity Realisation group at the University of Exeter, the study looked at the psychology of working environments. It concluded art enriches workplaces and rather than distracting employees, makes them more productive.


Study head Dr Craig Knight told the Guardian newspaper people feel happier and work better when they're in a space that has been "enriched".

That comes as no surprise to Michael O'Sullivan, an architect who's on the Old South British Building body corp and helped re-design its foyer.

O'Sullivan says the reaction from those who work there has been positive. They say it brightens up their days and makes them feel better about the world. It also serves a functional purpose.

"When you walk into the building, the temptation is to walk straight ahead but that's not how you access the upper floors so the thinking was we could use art to catch people's eye then lead them around the corner to the lifts."

Back in 1929, when it was the second headquarters for the South British Insurance Company, the building was the tallest in Auckland. Now it has a Historic Places Trust Category I rating and houses a variety of law, architecture and consulting firms.

A UK study shows we're less stressed, healthier and do more when we're in workplaces with art on the walls.


When the entrance foyer of the Art Deco building was redesigned a few years back, O'Sullivan says body corporate members enthusiastically opted to use the blank wall as a giant canvas to showcase work by some of our leading artists.

Hughes, whose work is exhibited all over the world, is the latest to design for the space. She wanted to create something that livened up the foyer, but was also sympathetic to its existing Art Deco geometric fixtures and fittings.

Most of all, Hughes aimed to create an "element of surprise". Inspired by stars and galaxies, she used paint and adhesive vinyl to create the installation.

Meanwhile, Auckland Theatre Company has announced that two significant new public artworks will be unveiled when the new ASB Waterfront Theatre opens in the Wynyard Quarter in October.

New Zealand sculptor Professor Robert Jahnke is creating a pou, or carved pole, for the theatre's Logan Campbell Yard.

Pouwhakamaharatanga mo Maui tikitiki a Taranga will stand 6.4m tall, is made from steel and laminated totara, and will serve as a focal point for powhiri and other ceremonial events at the main entrance.

The Edmiston Trust, a major exponent of public art in Auckland, has commissioned American artist Leo Villareal to create a three-storey LED light installation for inside the theatre.

It is Villareal's first major public commission in the Pacific.

Internationally renowned and regarded as one of the most prominent light sculptors of his generation, he has pioneered the use of light-emitting LEDs and computer-driven imagery to create light sculptures and site-specific architectural works.