Britomart People / Damien Wendelborn

Designer Damian Wendelborn of Urbanite has brought more greenery into the heart of the Atrium on Takutai.


There are new planters in the atrium. What made you want to green up that space? I was far from alone on this – there have been many proposals for this space to bring a little softness and humanity to it. The design of the planters began with an intent to reference coastal forms and materials such sand, shells and worn driftwood logs where you might perch for a while. The planting is a mix of textural greens, predominantly exotic but with a few natives also.

With the limited light, occasional strong wind and the onset of cooler weather we were a little constrained in terms of options but variety of texture and form is the initial goal. We’ll monitor what works and what struggles, but as we progress through the seasons, the plant-housing methodology allows us to introduce other plant types with increased seasonal interest. The team at GreenAir (specialists in interior and vertical gardening solutions) were instrumental in informing the thinking around how to support the plant life and also contributed some of their more resilient plant species.

It’s been great to see people occupying the seats as soon as the planters were installed. Did you expect them to take a break there so naturally? As soon as the units were placed, passers-by began to use them, even as the planting team worked around them, so it’s clear there was a need. Also, I think the soft forms and natural materials such as the reclaimed Macrocarpa seat slabs further develop the intention of the precinct in presenting human-friendly spaces that are welcoming, unpretentious, familiar.

You’re also responsible for the design of the gardens around Te Ara Tahuhu, Britomart’s fairy-lit walking street. How do these new planters connect to the lush gardens there? Yes, I was fortunate enough to be involved with the early development of the gardens across the precinct working with Cheshire Architects. The original mix of plant and vessel types was intended to draw on the home garden, with collections of materials and gifted or special plants that might trigger memory or bring comfort.

Over the last few years the continued success and development of the early scheme has been largely down to the efforts of the knowledgeable Angela Arrowsmith from Lucid Gardens. She and I meet every now and then to discuss what is working and perhaps how to tweak the scheme but, for the most part, she has taken the original design intent and developed it as new opportunities present themselves. It is not an easy environment in which to nurture delicate beauty, but the continued success of the gardens is testament to her care, tenacity and unshakable optimism.

The most obvious connection of the new planters in the Atrium on Takutai to the original scheme would be the  soft forms and shapes of the vessels, and their bleached-shell colours. When the seasons allow, we hope to be able to introduce a few flowers here also that will more strongly connect with the mixed perennial plantings across the wider precinct.  Going forward,  it’d be great to create other generously sized vessels across the precinct and explore more options for interaction with users, as well as perhaps using the planters and plants a means of story-telling.

Why are plants so often an afterthought in urban spaces, and how would you like to see urban spaces transformed with them more? Ha! This is dangerous ground for me as I am a long way from an expert on public space design or development, but from what I observe, this seems to be changing. I believe the work Britomart did some seven or so years back showed the way in some respects, and encouraged a loosening up and humanising of other downtown areas.

It’s likely that the increased maintenance costs associated with mixed perennial schemes and pot-based planting has been a deterrent to building owners and managers, but the delight expressed by the users of the precinct has shown that there is real value there. It’s been obvious from my time spent working in or wandering the precinct, with people actively engaging with the plantings, taking photos and asking questions as to plant names, whether this plant or that would survive at their place and so on.

I believe Angela is constantly questioned on her plant schemes also. How would I like to see this develop? I’d like to see more shop owners, office workers and apartment dwellers continue to green these environments, looking for opportunities to soften some of the concrete and glass.

Photos by Joe Hockley