It’s Britomart Cocktail Hour in Takutai Square on Thursday lunchtimes until Christmas, where we’re bringing back the bar cart to serve alcohol-free cocktails for people to enjoy on the lawn in the sun. The drinks – which contain Seedlip, the world’s first alcohol-free spirit – are served from an elaborate cart custom-designed for the space by Micheal McCabe, a lecturer at AUT and a designer of theatre sets and exhibitions, among other things.

Here, Britomart’s Jeremy Hansen talks to Micheal about the inspiration behind the cart and the challenges of giving it a presence in the big space of Takutai Square. 

JEREMY HANSEN Micheal, how would you describe what you do? 

MICHEAL MCCABE I’m a designer and a lecturer at AUT's School of Architecture, and I’ve spent the last seven or eight years flitting between academia and freelance design, working on exhibition design with galleries like Objectspace, as well as theatre companies and other arts organisations. I’m a designer, never an artist, which I think is an interesting distinction – I feel really comfortable playing a supporting role for a vision. Then sometimes I get to lead projects that are more direct expressions of my aesthetic interests.

JEREMY HANSEN You’ve designed the rather spectacular bar cart that’s serving drinks in Takutai Square on Thursday lunchtimes. Can you talk about your approach to designing it?

MICHEAL MCCABE I was talking about how this was the kind of thing we dreamed of making when we were studying architecture: something bright and expressive, poppy and postmodern and purposefully a little bit cheeky and funny. Throughout architecture school, I was making these luridly colorful schemes. For this bar cart, I spent a lot of time just pouring over how all these different architects and furniture designers have tackled the idea. 

I slowly settled on this intersection of Italian marquetry – these exquisite bar carts inlaid with a series of exotic timbers – and high-tech modernism like that of Cedric Price or Richard Rogers or maybe some kind of more wacky Norman Foster work. I was really interested in the collision of these worlds of almost-tasteless ornamentation and decorative functionalism.

I also played compositionally with color. The end result resides in this clowny kind of world: they're a bit jovial and tongue-in-cheek, but they also marry this campy, pop approach with this hyper-considered relationship of decorative pattern. It’s all been put together with the help of brilliant fabricators Minka Ip and Stephen Brookbanks. 

JEREMY HANSEN How did factor in the scale of Takutai Square and that the cart exists there in an open-air space instead of a room? 

MICHEAL MCCABE You really have to punch against a big public space like that. Takutai Square is very considered, with its neutral palette, and this is a kind of rupture. I should add that I think it's very interesting that I was asked to do a bar cart because I don't drink.

JEREMY HANSEN The cart’s only serving alcohol-free drinks, but that’s not quite what you’re referring to right?

MICHEAL MCCABE I'm interested in how I can participate in a culture of drinking that isn't about drinking. For me it’s about finding the effervescent kind of culture that can come with drinking. And I think that comes from the pleasure of hosting other people. So in a way, the Britomart Cocktail Hour bar cart is using this sheer colourful aura to try and create a space for others to congregate and commune. 

Britomart Cocktail Hour runs in Takutai Square every Thursday from noon-2pm, with the last session on December 21. Stay tuned for info about sessions in the New Year. Photographs by Geoffery Matautia.