For the Nohonga design challenge, teams of landscape architects were invited to design benches that responded to the theme of Climate Resilience. The results of their efforts are now in Takutai Square as part of Britomart's activities to celebrate the Climate Festival. In November, the Nohonga will move to Brick Bay Sculpture Trail. Here, we speak to two of the four teams whose proposals were selected by the Nohonga jury. 

Designed by Kelly Ting, Lei Chen, Bo Hong. 

JEREMY HANSEN How did you all get involved in this competition?

KELLY TING I reached out to Lei, because I saw the competition two years ago and was like, ‘Oh, this is so interesting.’ And then because I saw the requirement was that you needed a landscape graduate person in your team, I reached out to Lei. And then because Bo is Lei's friend and that's how us three kind of came together. We’re the only student entry – the others are from professional landscape firms. 

JEREMY HANSEN Tell me about the development of your concept. How did it arise from your discussions?

KELLY TING Because this year's theme is Climate Resilience, we spent quite a lot of time understanding this concept, then focusing on one area that the three of us are happy with. We got into ASMR and the idea that within this changing world ASMR just kind of stays constant. Basically our seat is a place of healing, and to learn from nature and bring people back to nature.

LEI CHEN We wanted to fade to the boundary between the urban area and the natural landscape. So in this bench, we use this concept of the breath of Tane, the sound of Tane. But because the first location is at Britomart, it’s very close to the ocean and the sound is of the waves. Straightaway you think of sea level rise, and we designed the chair in the shape of the sound frequency of a sea wave. 

BO HONG The bench is a man-made structure, but we didn’t want to make it only for people, but also for the children of Tane – which are insects. So that’s where this idea of an insect hotel comes from. That’s what it will become when it moves to Brick Bay (where all the Nohonga benches will be located after their stint at Britomart]. The ASMR soundtrack will change then too. 

KELLY TING I guess in the early stages of our development all three of us had a series of different opinions. Our work really inspired us and really united all three of our concepts. 

JEREMY HANSEN The theme of this design competition is Climate Resilience, and I wondered how you felt about creating something new – putting a new object in the world, when some people say we should be producing fewer things. Which I guess also relates to your professions of architecture and landscape architecture, where making things is part of the job. 

KELLY TING I think that's a concept we kind of covered in this idea of up-cycling: within our seat we're using recycled materials and we want to encourage this behavior of reusing what we already have.

BO HONG You need to something as the interface between people and nature to remind people of the importance of the nature. I think that’s our goal for this project.

JEREMY HANSEN How do you want the bench to be used when it’s in Takutai Square?

KELLY TING It's the idea that people really focus on the QR code that we have on the seats that people scan and they hear the sea wave sounds. And it's this idea that we want to encourage them to think beyond what they can see. We want them to think that within this towering landscape of buildings, what does it mean when we start hearing sea waves? That means that sea level is rising, or just creates an awareness of sea level rising.

JEREMY HANSEN It seems like creating a bench like this is a nice blend between practical requirements and imaginative freedom. Is that how you found it?

LEI CHEN I definitely agree with you. Like there's kind of balance between I guess, practicality and the concept. It's always good to have constraints, because if it's all just concept then it's like you never really know how it's going to impact real life. So it needs to have this level of practicality into it.

KELLY TING I guess this Nohonga challenge really suited our team because Bo and Lei are in their final year of architecture studies and Lei already has a degree in landscape architecture. I'm still in my undergraduate studies, so I guess it's a good balance that some of us were more focused on the practical side, and some of us more on the conceptual side. And it just kind of balanced out the team dynamic as well. So it was great.

The Sound of Life designers would like to thank timber supplier South Pacific Timber, steel supplier United Steel, as well as Matt Liggins, Angus Muir Design, Yuanlin Zhao and Alistair Munro Design.

Designed by Monica Bainbridge, Nicole Tune and Alex Smith, with support from their colleagues at Boffa Miskell.

JEREMY HANSEN What made you want to enter the Nohonga design competition?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE We’d seen the entry a couple of years ago by some of our colleagues, and that was really a big part of the inspiration. I was a bit jealous that I wasn't involved the first time around. So this time within the office we actually had a little mini-competition, where some of the more senior design leads went through and formed a few teams based on a few different ideas that people were coming forward with. And luckily my idea was chosen; and myself, Nicole, and Alex Smith formed a team.

JEREMY HANSEN The theme you had to design to was climate resilience. Can you tell me how you developed your design in response to this?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE We looked into the theme of permanence versus impermanence, as well as ideas surrounding coastal erosion, natural weathering and the deterioration of objects. And that's where we loosely arrived at a design that was going to deteriorate over time and be reclaimed by nature. Yeah, that was our initial inspiration.

NICOLE TUNE I think for us, building a seat was never the end goal. It was always like, how's this going to be a seat and function like that, but eventually, where's it going to go? How's it going to break down? What's the long term end of the seat? The whole idea started with having the varying nature of the macrocarpa. It's not just all the same treated timber that we’ve cut into different lengths. And we’ve introduced colour, so that's another playful effect.

JEREMY HANSEN Most architecture and landscape architecture aspires to permanence. Did it feel freeing to abandon those aspirations and go for a completely different goal?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE Yeah, absolutely. And the design of the seat, with one side structured and tidy and the other more ragged, is already imitating a lot of the deterioration. It was a lot more joyful not trying to make something too clean-cut and perfect. I mean, it needed to slot together and function, but having that chaotic edge really helped. It's a slowly evolving sculpture.

JEREMY HANSEN You are landscape architects in your day jobs, and you’re often working on large scale projects. What’s it like to create a single piece and think at this much smaller scale?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE It was really lovely being able to focus on something a lot smaller that we could really dive into the detail of straight away. We also knew the design was going to be realised a lot sooner. A lot of the work that we do starts at a resource consent stage and it takes years before you see any of your work actually going in the ground. So it was nice being able to have that full loop, full life cycle, from conception of design through to actually seeing your completed nohonga.

JEREMY HANSEN You’ve included colour in your work. What led you to choose those particular shades?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE We looked at New Zealand native fungi and we've used a selection of different tones of blue inspired by them and matched with the Resene palette. With the brighter and the darker blue tones, it starts to give a bit of an illusion and really feeds into the chaos of that ragged edge. 

JEREMY HANSEN What kind of projects are you working on?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE I do a lot of design for retirement villages, some of which are brand-new and pretty big. I've also been doing a lot of light industrial development with big stream upgrades. 

NICOLE TUNE I've done a lot of subdivision work recently, as well as school master planning and community play spaces, so some of them are a bit smaller in scale.

JEREMY HANSEN What do you want people to think when they’re sitting on the bench you designed? Are you hoping to direct their experience in a particular way?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE I hope there’s some appreciation of a place to sit and pause and relax and rest and socialize, that kind of thing. But also being able to lean into that process of that reclamation of materials back into nature, I think is going to be a simple message that not everything is permanent and everything is fleeting, including us. Not that I want anyone to have an existential crisis. It might just be a little bit thought-provoking. 

JEREMY HANSEN What ability do you think landscape architecture has as a profession to influence climate outcomes and perhaps mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change?

MONICA BAINBRIDGE I think we've got a huge responsibility with material use within our projects: where we're sourcing those materials, but also what their circular lifespan is. We have to advocate for the landscape, and sometimes we have to sell that to the client to ensure that they are steering the project in the correct direction as well.

NICOLE TUNE I think we're in a position that we have a duty of care to the landscape, and that's such an important thing for the health of the planet and for people's wellbeing as well. I think we've got to be the ones that stand up and say, maybe there's a better way to do something.

The Boffa Miskell team would like to thank Streetscape, Cypress Sawmill, Resene and the team at Boffa Miskell. 

The Nohonga design challenge is initiated and sponsored by the NZ Institute of Landscape Architects, Brick Bay, Resene and Britomart.