Twelve Questions: Teena Hale Pennington

Teena Hale Pennington, the newly appointed CEO of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, has worked in city design in Australia and New Zealand, most recently as the director of strategy, planning and urban design for the Wellington City Council. She's not a fan of McMansions.

Teena Hale Pennington says sustainability in new buildings is a must. Photo / Jane Ussher
Teena Hale Pennington says sustainability in new buildings is a must. Photo / Jane Ussher

1.Easy questions first: What's the answer to Auckland's housing price bubble?

There's no one answer but the price of land and well-designed and built alternatives are key. Housing ownership is still predominantly seen as the answer but affordability needs to be addressed through both ownership and rental options. At the moment we have housing department rentals at one end, private ownership at the other and we need some more options in the middle. This will require some innovative funding models and design outcomes.

2. Got any working examples?

Colorado has grappled with this, just as many cities around the world have. Their issue is quality affordable housing close to the ski fields for the workers who need to live and work there. In downtown Colorado they have affordable rental schemes that are owned by a mixture of council, businesses, other institutions - it's vital to the economy of the city to have affordable housing for its workers. Architects are an important part of all this too - people's ability to live comfortably in affordable housing is because they live in a well designed space that works well in the built environment.

3. Describe your own home - and then your dream one.

An urban bolt hole jammed full of Crown Lynn, books, collected treasures and an edible garden.

It would be hard to go past something like the First Light house, now a "book a bach" out at Waimarama beach. The house, which is the quintessential Kiwi bach, was the Victoria University architecture student entry in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon (first ever entry from the Southern Hemisphere). It got third, proving that a solar-powered house can be cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. It was shipped to Washington and rebuilt there then shipped back to New Zealand and now sits at Waimarama beach, Hawkes Bay. That location is pretty compelling for the dream, too.

4. At 38, you seem young for the institute's CEO role: is architecture a young person's game now?

Yes - and a more senior person's game as well. Luckily for its practitioners, architecture is a vocation that can last a lifetime. Peter Beaven, the well-known Christchurch architect, was 85 when he died last year. He was designing buildings up to the end.

5. What is, in your opinion, the worst building in Auckland?

In every city there's no shortage of contenders for this title. Personally, I think it'll be a happy day for Auckland when the car parking building on the south side of Victoria Park gets the last rites.

6. Will we ever be able to afford our own Sydney Opera House- type icon?

I think iconic status is conferred, not anticipated. That said, why shouldn't Auckland have a spectacular building on its harbour? If the design is sufficiently inspiring, we'll find a way to pay for it, and our grandchildren will be glad we did.

7. Who is the godfather (I'm assuming it's a man) of New Zealand architecture?

Ian Atfhield would make a good don, although he completely lacks mafia tendencies. But maybe we should be looking for a godmother. Later this year the New Zealand Institute of Architects is supporting an exhibition on women in New Zealand architecture and we'll see it's not all about the blokes.

8. McMansions: please explain.

XL houses squeezed on to M-size sections. Lots of amenity, but an uncomfortable fit. And they all look much the same.

9. Do Auckland and Wellington have different design aesthetics?

Wellington architecture has had to adapt to a topography that's thrilling but rather challenging, and I think the result is a more idiosyncratic aesthetic. Auckland is a more relaxed and more extroverted place. It's not as coherent a city as Wellington and its charms are more raffish.

10. What's the best building in Auckland of the past decade?

In my position, comparisons are invidious, but it would be hard to go past the Auckland Art Gallery, which received the 2012 New Zealand Architecture Medal.

11. What's the biggest misconception about architects as a species?

That they're very hard of hearing.

12. What is the international design trend we're most likely to see making an impact in New Zealand architecture?

Sustainability is a principle that has been around for a while but it's now passing from rhetoric to meaningful action. Commercial clients increasingly see the benefits of buildings that waste less energy and consume fewer resources. We're nearing a tipping point where buildings will be expected to not only perform efficiently but to harness energy and send it to the grid.

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