An Auckland architect is committing to the Christchurch rebuild by first showing Cantabrians what he can do.

Like a limpet stuck to a Lyttelton rock, the brand new Bull O'Sullivan Architects office clings to the towering hills above the famous port.

The finishing touches to this building are still being completed, but already it's attracting the attention of the locals.

Not least because they may well recognise the chunky industrial timbers which make up almost the entire rear wall of the building and the car platform, which provides the only flat space of the 1200 square-metre section.

A rare thing is Michael O'Sullivan, who is both an architect and a builder. Over the past year, he has spent almost every weekend travelling down to build his new Christchurch office.


He found the land or, rather, it found him. Owners of a piece of land down the road from the new Lyttelton office were referred to O'Sullivan through a friend for whom he had designed a family home, and he flew down to take a look at their site with a view to designing theirs. While there he also noticed the steep section down the road, and decided to take a punt.

This fortuitous trip came after many others where O'Sullivan worked on Fletcher Building projects redesigning various parts of the destroyed city. It cemented O'Sullivan's commitment to Christchurch.

"I saw how the work that we did made such a huge difference to the people we worked for. There is so much work to be done in Christchurch and I consider it an honour to be a part of the rebuilding of the city."

The aforementioned industrial timbers; they're the old Lyttelton wharf boards which were ripped and twisted from the pilings during the events of February 22, 2011. For three years they were refuse, casualties of the earthquake, sitting in a heap on the wharf until they were spotted by O'Sullivan on a drive around the harbour.

Over one arduous weekend, O'Sullivan and his mate Laurence James manhandled over 10,000kg of the 100-year-old Australian Hardwood wharf timbers into place. Some weighed over 200kg.

The timbers act not only as an appropriate re-use of the wharf but, fittingly, will protect the new building from any projectile rocks dislodged by possible future seismic events.
"Rocks were on the road every weekend during the build," says O'Sullivan of the debris from the multitude of aftershocks which hit the city.

O'Sullivan eats, sleeps and breathes architecture, and now he can do so literally. The new 120-square-metre office is also a home, with three bedrooms downstairs, a bathroom with views to die for and a full kitchen with an adjoining deck. The workspace upstairs, which must surely compete for New Zealand's best workplace (given the view) could, by simply re-arranging the furniture, easily be converted into a comfortable home's living room, complete with the Kiwi-designed Pyroclassic wood burner.

The heat source is necessary for the compulsory early sunsets in Lyttleton, but the place is warmed at the crack of dawn by the rising sun, which streams through the floor-to-ceiling, double-glazed windows on the east side.

The aluminium cladding has become an O'Sullivan signature. Smelted in Bluff and extruded by the McKechnies of Taranaki, O'Sullivan designed the texture to replicate the landscape of Banks Peninsula, and the anodised bronze to fit in with the parched summer grasses.

The gales which occasionally strike are catered for by triangular steel cabling, which keep the eves from peeling off the roof.

Inside, the hues of American oak soften the harsh sun outside, as does the Italian sapele mahogany in both quarter cut and crown cut pieces - giving a pleasing mixture of straight and wavy grained timbers.

The bathroom is in Italian marble, sourced by Graeme Thorne of Auckland company Italian Stone. O'Sullivan asked Thorne to choose the stone which best suited the hills of Diamond Harbour and Mount Herbert, the stunning view the bather sees from the bath.
The section planting - natives of the hardy coastal variety - is inspired by that of the Chatham Islands, a place where O'Sullivan has a connection through his work there. The harsh summer has meant irrigation to keep the plants alive, but already the aluminium edges of the building are softening with the new growth.

O'Sullivan is putting his money where his mouth is.

"We're here to help with the Christchurch rebuild. We want to be involved. I'd love to see Christchurch come out of this in better shape than before the earthquakes. It's going to take time, and care, and thought, but it's a special place which deserves our best."

Photos by Martin Hunter