A matter of taste

Auckland-based architecture firm Matter have done for themselves what they do for their clients – created a space that’s great to look at and exist in.

Architect Jon Smith and his project engineer were perched high on a cross-beam completing a steel inspection when the earth moved. Vibrations from a Link bus trundling up College Hill had caused the structure to shake. Still, the pair had confidence in their calculations – “although we pushed the boundaries of how thin we could make the steel skeleton of the building,” Jon says.

Faith and frustration were in tensile balance for the three years it took Matter Architects to receive Resource Consent for its new office in this Ponsonby location. The original bungalow that stood here was, says Jon, “butchered”, with most of the native hardwood timbers replaced by pine. Still the authorities demurred. So Jon decided on a different tack. In just five days, a crew of street artists named BMD transformed the bungalow top to toe into a graffiti gallery. “We had some great feedback from the local community who thought the house looked fantastic – Che Fu even filmed a music video here.” Three days later, the official paper giving Matter Architects the go-ahead landed on Jon’s desk.

Designed within the exact envelope set by its pitched-roof predecessor, the building looks more like a dwelling than an office. Clever manipulation of proportion has allowed three levels to fit within the footprint. “Every square metre was carefully thought out.”

Matter’s zone is on the top floor, with wraparound views of the city and suburbs. Jon calls this an example of “inside out” design. An exposed steel structure features internally to set up an industrial aesthetic that’s anchored by concrete floors and softened by timber elements.

The fun happens indoors, where a sunken conversation pit with bench seating is a meeting space designed for intimacy and informality. “Some clients clam up if you seat them at a board table.”

It’s unlikely said clients will keep mum when there’s so much to draw the eye and spark a conversation. If the intricacies of a BMD mural in this space don’t do it, the keepsakes on display in the custom-made room divider just might. “It’s a 3D take on Mondrian’s painted grid,” says Jon.

Colours for the display boxes that are incorporated in the rosawa wood divider were chosen by staff members who are encouraged to take ownership of their environment. They have paid heed. Star Wars figurines “from the second trilogy, not the new stuff” are at home here, along with a vintage cocktail shaker and, for good measure, a bonsai rosemary plant.
If that doesn’t foster a relaxed atmosphere, there’s another tactic at hand. A vintage high-beam surgery lamp from Napier Hospital stands at the ready to switch into interrogatory action.

With pops of bold colour, a blackboard wall to doodle on, a shower for the cyclists in the crew and a secret Narnia-style cubbyhole where a member of staff can bunk up after a long day, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to leave.


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