Distinctive rows of white brick and bronze aluminium-clad architecturally-designed saw tooth-roofed townhouses have risen at a Metlifecare project under construction north of Auckland.
Shannon Joe - a master-planning, commercial and residential specialist at Warren and Mahoney - was engaged to design to the overall scheme and stage one of the buildings in the Red Beach development. That includes five blocks of the 35 dramatic single-level adjoining townhouses which capture and keep the sun at Gulf Rise near Silverdale.
He used skillion roof-features, where the roof cladding and ceiling run parallel, to allow him to almost double internal volumes and the amount of light flooding living areas of the homes from the east, north and west. The series of ridges with dual pitches either side give visual relief to what could have been far more ordinary.
"I didn't want those to feel like a cookie-cutter approach. Every frontage looks different but overall, the five blocks relate to each other and appear as part of a family," Joe said of the townhouses.
Inside, the void created by that roof feature yields a soaring 4.3m stud, double the usual approximately 2m stud from traditional designs. So although the new villas are only 115sq m to 128sq m floor area, ceiling height makes them feel more spacious.
"This is the first time we've worked with Warren and Mahoney," said Metlifecare chief executive Glen Sowry. "We just wanted it to look more contemporary and looked at a different way of designing and building, for example with the pitched ceilings and the cladding systems of aluminium and brick. What we have spent would be at the top end."
Hayden & Rollett and NZ Strong are building on the ex-golf course site at 89 Symes Dr which could eventually be home to more than 300 people.
Joe said the internal height added "glamour" to the places and Red Beach was the first retirement village he had master planned "but I'm now also working with Metlifecare at Beachlands. You should see that!"
As one of New Zealand's top architects, he was also the lead designer on the Waterview Connection which won a national NZ Institute of Architects award, as well as the Los Angeles Business Council Architecture Award and the Chicago Athenaeum Award. Joe has won a string of other major awards in his role as lead designer on Auckland's Bellus Apartments, Wellington's Charles Fergusson Tower, Auckland's Verto Apartments and the Pacific Games Village in Papua New Guinea.
"Before our involvement, there was another scheme," Joe said of a more block-like Metlifecare Red Beach plan, now ditched.
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"Generally, retirement villages are very heavy. They feel impenetrable and you don't feel welcome. They're more gated communities.
"Every person - when they're retiring or are about to retire - fears losing their life, giving up their treasures. But if you move to a well-designed apartment, you love where you've gone. You don't need to live in a 500sq m house. You can live in a smaller home and have everything you want," Joe said, referring to baby boomers wanting a new style of village.
Marketing leverages the architecture: "Those who have already had the chance to view the completed villas have been really impressed by the spacious feeling given with the high raking ceilings and the amount of sunlight coming into the living area through the floor to ceiling glass. Solar tubes have also been installed in the bathrooms, resulting in an abundance of natural light."
Even the less aesthetically-interested investment community has noticed Joe's work.
Jeremy Simpson, a senior equities analyst at Forsyth Barr, said: "Red Beach looks to be a good location and long term it will be a good asset for Metlifecare. It has an innovative design and the villas I have seen appear to built to a very high quality and look unique in terms of what the other major operators are building."
Metlifecare's hurdle is "to get the staging right in terms of the level of new product it delivers to the market at any one point, which is the challenge for all higher density new villages in the Auckland metro area," Simpson noted.
The Red Beach townhouses are being marketed from $855,000 to $925,000. They will soon be surrounded by apartments and a hospital block, with higher-rise buildings now under construction.
Could retirement village owner/operators put more of an emphasis on good architecture?
Graham Wilkinson of Generus engaged Sumich Chaplin and Boffa Miskell to design the six new blocks and surrounding landscape at Mt Eden's Ranfurly Village.
But the owner/operators of large-scale high-rise villages don't always engage award-winning architects like Joe, sometimes resulting in little more than rudimentary domestic architecture on a vertical scale, with limited visual or design appeal.
John Walsh, Institute of Architects' communication director praised Joe's work but said the retirement village sector had not been "characterised by innovative design thinking".
Architect Julie Stout of Mitchell Stout and Paul Edmond of the Institute of Architects' Auckland branch congratulated Ryman Healthcare for its co-operation in Environment Court mediation on the design of the new Devonport retirement village, now under construction.
"Ryman Healthcare was very responsive to alternative layouts proposed by the appellants, which were designed to strengthen connections between the new village and the existing one, by breaking building blocks down around open spaces, building closer to the street, and reducing the sense of an out-of-scale institution in the seaside suburb. It's a pity it took an Environment Court appeal to bring us to conciliation," the two wrote in Architecture Now.