The Stanbeth and Excelsior Buildings

The challenge here was to restore beauty and urban presence to two 130-year old trading buildings, suffering for neglect and rude alteration; deliver high-capacity, highly-serviced hospitality and office environments into immutable old structures whose designers anticipated only bulk storage and clerks’ offices.

An open, five-storey high central circulation core reconciles the different floor levels of the buildings, enabling their adaptive re-use as a single whole. The ground floor and basement are filled with hospitality spaces. We did the fit-outs for the restaurant Café Hanoi and the four bars within 1885 Britomart, and worked with Shaky Isles’ café designers to help them into the building. The upper floors are filled with loft-like office spaces, most of which we were involved in fitting-out.

A complex conversion in a time of economic crisis demanded that architecture act efficiently. Crumbling brick walls were stabilized, their surfaces art directed and left exposed to deliver richness and depth. Services were shaped from standardized components, carefully composed and threaded through the massive structure. The exterior has been reconfigured and restored to present an elegant and enlivened face to the city. A vertical slice tears open the Excelsior building, forming dynamic outdoor terraces within each floor.

Our hospitality projects set out to provide a diversity of experience within a single site; to be as comfortable and stimulating for a single diner as they might be for a party of six hundred. 1885 delivers an improvised and intimate den, through big nightclub and dimly-lit jazz bar, to luxury subterranean retreat. Café Hanoi’s configuration was conceptualized as a theatre – the kitchen pass as a stage ablaze with action, a long chef’s table as front row, the ubiquitous fours forming the stalls, flanked by the more intimate gallery and conservatory, and a robust backstage experience leading to the bejeweled dressing rooms below.

Inside and out, this project relies on a dialectic of ‘humble-special’. It seeks to unlock the potentials of aged, distressed and humble objects, by choreographing their decay, then setting them in tensile opposition with small moments of intense refinement. It is an aid for delivering a richness of space from a modest budget deployed amidst real dilapidation. The Stanbeth basement was once an underwater rubbish dump, now it is the jewel of the precinct, offering the most refined of experiences and thriving off the exhilaration of luxury amidst decay.

2012 Property Council of NZ Merit Award

2011 NZIA Auckland Architecture Award

Photography by Jeremy Toth