A building whose rooftop has been compared to seagull excrement, a turban, a volcano or a meringue won the country's top architecture award last night.

Auckland's controversial new waterfront ASB North Wharf has drawn widespread approbation but the NZ Institute of Architects praised it as "an ambitious exploration of topological possibilities", coupling technical achievement with poetic expression.

See a full gallery of architectural winners below

Former Auckland councillor Sandra Coney has criticised it for looming large over the lovely Red Shed, lacked grace, out of scale with everything else on the wharf edge while Herald columnist Brian Rudman said the plans showed a building "topped by a giant, meringue-shaped, seagull dropping".


But now Australia's BVN Donovan Hill and New Zealand's Jasmax have won this year's architectural gold medal for the building which the judging panel headed by convenor Richard Naish said dissolved workplace barriers and encouraged more creative encounters.

"In ASB North Wharf, we may be seeing the future shape of work," the judges said, describing the block on Halsey St/Jellicoe St corner opposite Karanga Plaza as "an ambitious experiment in commercial architecture".

The building also won a sustainability award, its air conditioning substantially cut back so daylight and fresh air can penetrate the interior, so the judges said "in a sense, the building is a working lung".

Derek Shortt, the ASB property chief who concieved the project with the architects, has projected energy savings of up to 50 per cent. The block is the third collaboration between Mr Shortt and the architects who also created global award-winning Albany ASB premises C:Drive and Sovereign House at Takapuna's Smales Farm.

ASB North Wharf also won an interior award, praised for its big bridges and sweeping stars in the radical design, even though some staff have expressed quiet frustrations coping with such a radically different workspace.

ASB North Wharf interior, BVN Donvan Hill and Jasmax. Photo / John Gollings

"Banking is traditionally a business in which people know their place and keep to it. In this building, workers are encouraged to find their place and use it for a particular time and purpose," the judges said.

It was a huge night for BVN and Jasmax whic also won commercial and interior awards for Christchurch's new airport terminal.

The institute made 17 awards for buildings ranging from small baches to university buildings like AUT's new Sir Paul Reeves Centre, also by Jasmax which won further awards for that building in the education, urban design and planning categories.

Stevens Lawson Architects won a housing award for a new Waiheke Island house on a headland overlooking the sea at Onetangi The judges said it was hospitable but dramatic: "warm and unexpected spaces are revealed behind hidden doors but these are always welcome. The combination of formal materials and informal spaces makes for a relaxed retreat."

Bossley Architects won a small project award for a bach at Waiuku. The judges said this compact two-bedroomed box floated above a boat storage space and was the same crimson as the pohutakawa tree where it nestled "as a gesture of cheerful rebellion against the trend of holiday house beige." This was the latest addition to an already idiosyncratic little house, saluting the multiplicity and architectural disjunction of the traditional bach community.

Patterson Associates and Inside Out Productions won the international award for the New Zealand guest of honour pavilion at last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. The jury said the pavilion was "a refreshing take on exposition architecture" and it was a technically sophisticated and culturally powerful response to the challenge to representing this country's literary identity.

The Cocker Townhouses in Auckland's Freemans Bay won an enduring architecture award, designed in 1973 by the late Claude Megson. Gordon Moller's family house at the beach at Te Horo also won an enduring architecture award because the judges said that after nearly 30 years, it proved its quality and appeal, "an excellent model of a holiday house on the New Zealand coast."

See a full gallery of architectural winners below or on the institute's web site

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