Box™ Design Lead Nicola Liew discusses her favourite Auckland building
When her parents first took her to visit the Wintergardens in the Auckland Domain, Nicola Liew was just five years old – but the occasion left an indelible impression in the young girl’s mind.” I remember being in awe of the beautiful colours and lush greenery,” she says.
Designed by Auckland architect William Gummer, of noted architectural firm Gummer and Ford, it is easy to see how the experience captured Nicola’s imagination. Her favourite childhood movie is the classic story The Secret Garden set in a mysterious mansion with parklike grounds and a walled garden that has been locked up for decades. “Visiting the Wintergardens was like being in a real-life version of that movie,” she says.
Two glasshouses that make up the built structure echo the architectural style of English country houses. The Temperate House, which opened in 1913 and the Tropical House, which came 7 years later, feature masonry brick and magnificent barrel-vaulted glass ceilings – a superb expression of solidity and light. “The glazed roof feels weightless in comparison to the base,” says Nicola. Circular window mullions and steel-lattice roof supports were innovative for their time. “There is a clever link to the architect’s own experience when he spent time detailing skyscrapers and romantic country houses while he was living abroad,” says Nicola.
Each glasshouse opens on to its own terraced courtyard, dotted with neoclassical marble statues around a sunken pool, evocative of grand colonial landscapes. Pergolas strewn with clambering creepers link the courtyards to the glasshouses. “Although the Temperate House and Tropical House are functionally different – one is heated, the other not – they are cohesive as a whole due to the careful balance of scale and geometry.”
But how does such a grandiose expression influence the design of the Box™ homes Nicola works on? “The concepts of weightlessness, symmetry, heaviness and lightness of materials and geometry are still very much relevant. Box’s aesthetic is about creating crafted, timeless homes that celebrate simplicity and structure. The relationship between the natural environment and surroundings are always an important consideration in each new project.”
Childhood memories tend to be coloured by naivety and the awesomeness of first-time discovery, so would Nicola’s vision of rare flowers and luscious foliage framed by a magnificent built backdrop stand the test of time? It did. “When I re-visited the gardens about six years ago, they were just as spectacular as I remembered. The Wintergardens is such a generous contribution to the city. It’s Auckland’s own Crystal Palace.”