Design on the world stage

McAuliffe Stevens is a finalist in the World Architecture Festival hotel and leisure category,...
McAuliffe Stevens is a finalist in the World Architecture Festival hotel and leisure category, for the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Queenstown. PHOTOS: MARINA MATHEWS
A hotel turning heads internationally was inspired by the glacier that once occupied Wakatipu. Kim Dungey reports.

Many of the firms shortlisted for awards at the World Architecture Festival are large and prestigious.

Businesses like Japan’s Nikken Sekkei and the UK’s Foster + Partners have hundreds of architects and fees income in the hundreds of millions.

Then there’s the small Otago practice that has only five staff and that entered for the first time, with a project that came to a halt during lockdown.

McAuliffe Stevens is a finalist in the hotel and leisure category, for the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Queenstown.

"We thought we had a design which was quite special and we thought there was no harm in entering because there was nothing to lose. But we didn’t necessarily expect that we’d be [a finalist]," project architect Preston Stevens said, adding that in terms of global architecture, it was like "being nominated for the Baftas".

"We’re shortlisted with 15 projects from all around the world — South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East — and some of them are outstanding ..."

The Holiday Inn, which opened at the corner of Stanley, Sydney and Melbourne Sts at the end of June last year, has a distinctive design that was 15,000 years in the making — it was inspired by Wakatipu’s glacial days.

An unusual occurrence locally was the placement of large-scale rocks in random locations, removed from their original geological context by glacial movement, Stevens said. Transported by ice and deposited elsewhere, these rocks were known in geology as "erratics" and inspired the elements that project horizontally and vertically from the building’s underlying form.

Two of the biggest challenges were integrating the large hotel into the environment and making it appear "interesting and stimulating", he added. Guest rooms had to be accommodated on the site as efficiently as possible but they wanted to avoid the repetitive, "cookie cutter" approach that often characterised big hotels.

"Having conceived of the concept of a glacier and the introduction of erratic elements, we could use those concepts to create projection and recession in the facade ... have portions of the faces that went forward and portions that went back ..."

Completed for Australian developers Pro-invest Group, the build cost about $55million, excluding land purchase and fit-out.

Finalists were expected to present their designs to judges in Portugal in December, said Stevens, who, along with Craig McAuliffe in Dunedin, is one of the firm’s two architects and owners.

"Of course that’s not going to happen [because of Covid] so we’re going to be corresponding with them about whether we can participate digitally."

This year’s 730 entries ranged from a Chinese Culture Exhibition Centre featuring a sun and a moon pavilion to a stylised urban landscape linking Abu Dhabi’s desert to its modern city grid.

Last year, Lindis Lodge near Omarama won the top hotel award and this year, about six New Zealand projects are shortlisted in other categories.

"So New Zealand really punches above its weight in this area, " Stevens said.

While the 227-room Holiday Inn was close to being completed when the country went into lockdown in March last year, another of the firm’s Queenstown projects — a redevelopment of O’Connells shopping mall for Skyline Enterprises — had only just started.

The exterior of that building should be completed next month, Stevens said. Tenant fit-outs would start after that and the mall was expected to reopen at the end of June next year.

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