We’re building something exciting in the neighbourhood

The Hotel Britomart is a 10-storey, 104-room hotel designed by Cheshire Architects to be constructed on a vacant site in downtown Auckland’s Britomart precinct. Its brick exterior is a reference to the materials of the many heritage buildings in the precinct.

We’ve got big news: construction is commencing on The Hotel Britomart, designed by Cheshire Architects in the Britomart precinct.

The 10-storey, 104-room hotel will be built at the corner of Gore and Galway Streets, with the development extending to include the refurbishment and restoration of the adjoining Masonic and Buckland heritage buildings.

The new hotel will have 99 rooms with interiors designed by Cheshire Architects. The five Landing Suites – three of which will feature generous outdoor sky gardens – are a collaboration between Cheshire Architects and Seattle’s Lucas Design Associates, and will offer some of the city’s most refined accommodation. The suites reference The Landing, the vineyard with luxury residences in the Bay of Islands also managed by Cooper and Company, which owns the Britomart Group.

“Our experience in providing luxury accommodation and hospitality at The Landing in the Bay of Islands made us want to create a city hotel that expresses all the values of the Britomart precinct,” says Peter Cooper, executive chairman of Cooper and Company. “Britomart is a crossroads at the heart of downtown waterfront Auckland, and the hotel is another important step in enabling us to welcome people from everywhere and make them feel at home here.”

In addition to the lobby, The Hotel Britomart’s ground floor will be occupied by retail outlets and food and beverage offerings. The new hotel will be connected to the adjacent heritage buildings by a laneway that will lead to the hotel’s main entrance and also form a new connection with Customs Street through the Masonic Building. Cooper and Company is working with Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to transform Galway Street into a shared space during the hotel construction process, making the Britomart precinct an even more welcoming environment for pedestrians.

Construction of the hotel is expected to take 20 months, with bookings opening six months prior to completion. The Hotel Britomart will be built by Bracewell Construction. The building is targeting a 5-star Green Star rating that is part of a wider commitment to sustainability throughout the Britomart precinct.

International hoteliers TFE Hotels have been appointed as operator and manager of the hotel under the TFE Collections brand, a portfolio of unique and beautiful discovery hotels in Australia and New Zealand.

The Hotel Britomart’s striking exterior is made of brick, and studded with an irregular constellation of windows. Britomart’s Jeremy Hansen talked to Nat Cheshire and Dajiang Tai of Cheshire Architects about the design of the hotel and the transformation of the city block it occupies.

Nat Cheshire and Dajiang Tai

JEREMY HANSEN You’ve both worked on projects in the Britomart precinct for a long time, including the interiors of Cafe Hanoi and Ortolana, the Pavilions that house many of the precinct’s fashion stores, and a lot more. What does it feel like to be scaling up to a project of this size?

NAT CHESHIRE This feels like the pointy end of almost 15 years of working in the precinct. It’s been an ideal training ground, and now we have this opportunity to take everything we’ve fought for at an intimate human scale and translate it up into a big building that’s going to sit in the core of the city for a very long time. It lets us bring the energy and excitement and optimism we have about architecture and citymaking and placemaking and bring that to bear on a whole city block.

JH As well as the hotel itself, this project includes the restoration of two neighbouring heritage buildings and the creation of a new laneway that punches through the Masonic Building to arrive on Customs Street. What’s behind the wider design strategy that surrounds the building?

NC We’re always hunting for this layered urban complexity. This is a bit of a city to be explored and discovered. When you’re walking down Customs Street you might catch a glimpse of sunlight through a hole in an old building, you slip through into the polished entrails of that building and then emerge in a courtyard covered by a 120-year-old building, and then you’re in a laneway with the parts of a contemporary 10-storey building dancing around above you – all of that street-level complexity is more exciting than the building itself. In some ways a great building is just an opportunity to improve a street; to recalibrate the city at street level, where we all experience it. We are trying to make it as rough and messy and complex and organic as we can.

DAJIANG TAI For a precinct to be succesful it needs to have layers and complexity and provide a platform for people to engage. We all come from different cultural backgrounds, and the city is the common ground where people want to meet. I like to think the presence of the hotel and the laneway really boosts that platform, making the precinct even more accessible.

JH Let’s talk about how the building looks. The Hotel Britomart is a brick building, a material you don’t see a lot of these days, especially in tall buildings. What’s behind the choice of material?

NC Buildings used to have gravity and mass and roughness and now they’re as thick as a pane of glass. With The Hotel Britomart, there is this 10-storey mass of brick that’s sitting on a transparent base, amplifying its sense of weight. The roughness and tacility of the brick exterior is a deliberate act of resisitance against these glass curtain-wall towers of our city and our time. The colour of the clay is irregular, as is the way that the bricks are laid out across the face. It ebbs and flows from a very regular stacked grid into much more organic patterns of interleaving and stacking. Using brick also establishes a really positive, intimate conversation with those beautiful, rough, heavy old buildings that surround us. The trick was to not let that lapse into a buildng that deferred to its environment. This is Britomart, we have a responsibility to be brave and fuck with the future of the city a bit.

DT The concept is for it to have presence and permanence. It has to feel heavy and make a statement. We didn’t want a factory-moulded brick where everything looked the same size. Brick gives another layer of detail the closer you get to it, with its hand-made texture or little lime rocks. It has to make people unsure if it was built a long time ago or now – that familiarity but the unfamiliarity as well, which is emphasised by the contrasting crystal-like windows which are flush with the facade and offset the rusticity of the brick.

The Hotel Britomart entrance will be connected to the adjacent heritage buildings by an intimate pedestrian laneway that is being created as part of the building project.

JH How did you decide on that arrangement of windows?

NC I’m excited about that. The shotgunning of fenestration across the facade creates a kind of constellation; it attacks the orthodoxy of a building being legible as a product of its floors. We wanted the brick structures to read as objects in their own right, rather than just the parts of a 10-storey building. Architecture must be more than building. As in our tiny Eyrie project [the twin cabins on the Kaipara Harbour that won HOME magazine’s 2014 Home of the Year award], I often think this means erasing a lot of what makes a place legible as a house, or a hotel, or whatever. Get rid of all that shorthand and you stand a chance of breaking through to something else. The edge of wonder, maybe. That’s what I hope.

JH You’ve also broken up the mass of the building so it looks almost like two very thin 10-storey buildings joined by a slender shaft of glass.

NC Each of the two main volumes is just five metres wide, and they’re slipped – one is taller than the other, one longer than the other. There’s a fineness and an energy to that which is extremely unusual I think. This is a big building made out of small things. That’s important.

JH What do you want it to feel like to stay there?

NC I like to think that staying there will be like drinking Britomart: it enters your body. You should feel as if you have become a resident of the precinct, not just a guest. As if, just for a day, you own the place. The logic has always been that the hotel is Britomart. It’s nine city blocks big: you can walk into Karen Walker and choose a dress for the evening, have your hair cut at Ryder, your make-up done at MAC, your dinner at Cafe Hanoi, your dessert at Milse and your last drink at Caretaker. The hotel is where you sleep and where you wake up. It gives you the key to those nine blocks, and all the treasures secreted in them. It tells you that the canele are coming warm out of the Amano ovens in ten minutes, that there is a table just come free at Mexico. So travellers should get this experience of being a resident here – or perhaps the guest in the apartment of a generous friend.

DT There is going to be a lovely softness, calmness and simplicity in the rooms, which is completely unexpected when you’ve entered this brick building. But most of all, the city should feel like part of this hotel. That’s hard to achieve with modern hotels because people try and have these enormous amenities – a gym, restaurant, library, all of these things – whereas when you’re staying in The Hotel Britomart you’re really staying in Britomart.

Two adjacent heritage buildings will be refurbished and leased as commercial tenancies as part of The Hotel Britomart project, including the creation of an entrance to a new pedestrian laneway from Auckland’s busy Customs Street.