Auckland has finally been transformed, finds Ben Crawford.
Growing up in Southland, it was almost expected that you should dislike Auckland. And I was no different. I swore black and blue I would never live here, especially after visiting a handful of times. I didn't get it. The city lacked a heart, downtown was desolate and for a Mainlander, it was incredibly crowded.
Like many non-natives, I eventually caved under the pressure of opportunity and moved to the City of Sails to pursue my career. That was nine years ago and my, how things can change, so much so that today I find myself in love with Auckland. As a beating heart emerges from previously wasted opportunity and abandoned buildings, our beautiful city is getting better by the minute asoutstanding new spaces open almost daily. In fact, I believe Auckland can be one of the greatest cities in the world.
It is accelerating to greatness faster than a lot of us appreciate and it is exhilarating to see. Five years ago there was no Britomart. There was no City Works Depot, Ponsonby Central, Imperial Buildings, McKenzies Project or Q Theatre, to name just a few of the many developments.
A huge amount of this transformation can be credited to Nat Cheshire and his architectural practice Cheshire Architects. Without Cheshire we wouldn't have Britomart or City Works. And without Britomart we wouldn't have the city we're falling in love with.
Britomart has become a frame of reference for what Auckland can be. It has sparked a fire of regeneration and creativity downtown which, in turn, has lit further fires around the city that have begun to fuel an inferno of change. We have a city to be proud of and the exciting thing is, we're only just leaving the starting blocks.
I've admired Cheshire, his studio and its work from afar for a long time, however I recently had the opportunity to hear Cheshire speak firsthand at the multi-disciplinary design conference, Semi-Permanent.
It was an incredible speech because it was more than a speech about architecture, it was a rallying cry for how Auckland can be. Ask any of the 1700 people in the audience that day and I'm sure they'll all agree. They were moved, motivated and empowered to make this city their own.
Cheshire's personal story and message resonated so strongly with me I had to hear more and he graciously accepted my invitation to meet. I wanted to know if he had always dreamed of transforming his hometown or whether it was it just good fortune that the opportunity presented itself early in his career.
In his softly spoken voice he replied that he had staked his architectural career on a belief that Auckland might yet become something extraordinary.
I'm glad he gambled his professional future on Auckland's future. However it wasn't until he pitched his vision for Britomart that he believed in his own vision and at that moment he felt the door to the city had finally been opened.
I don't think I have ever met a person so dedicated to their craft, where there is no delineation between work and life. "This is everything," Cheshire stresses. "We are fortunate to be working on such incredible projects that I don't want to waste the opportunity," the weight of responsibility nearly visible on his young shoulders.
Cheshire doesn't believe his role is to design beautiful buildings because none of that matters if the food being served from the restaurant within is dreadful. Instead, his role is to curate spaces that empower operators to make the dreams conceived by Cheshire their own.
So what does he believe Auckland will look like in 15 years' time? "The most exciting thing is I just don't know the answer to that any more. It is almost like the city is in a reverse freefall. It has its own momentum now and we'll continue to fan the flames but the long play has to be opening the city to the water."
I'm excited the future of Auckland is in the hands of people like Cheshire. But it's also in our own. We need to crave for the best and hunger for the new, which will in turn drive more people to excellence. Let's collectively fuel this fire lit by the likes of Cheshire into a blazing inferno and cement the City of Sails as the most remarkable city on the planet.
• Find it: Cheshire Architects